by Will Fletcher.
The inspiration for this post came whilst talking with my father-in-law, a supernumerary minister, in the days following Easter Day.
For personal reasons, I’ve found myself this last year reflecting on, and identifying with, the suffering Christ. I’ve discovered great comfort being in churches with a crucifix, whether physical or in stained glass, on which to meditate. They stand in great contrast to the Methodist churches with, at most, an empty cross. Through this year in personal circumstance, national and world events, it has been reassuring to reflect upon Christ entering into the suffering of our world.
This made it easier to prepare for Holy Week and Good Friday as we journeyed with Christ on that path to the cross. The cry of ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ felt more natural, than the triumphant ‘It is finished.’
The jump from Good Friday to Easter Day felt, this year at least, far too short. The situations in my life and in the world, hadn’t changed in those couple of days, so how could we suddenly switch to ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’? We were celebrating Easter, but so much seemed to scream that it was still Good Friday.
As I have begun reflecting on this (and this is only an early reflection, rather than a more rounded conclusion), I have appreciated more those early Easter experiences. The possible original ending of Mark’s Gospel in 16.8 with the women, having heard from the men in dazzling outfits that Jesus is risen, fleeing in terror and saying nothing to anyone; Luke’s account of the women being disbelieved by the eleven disciples, and then Peter looking in the empty tomb before going away to ponder what he had seen. As the disciples woke on that first Easter Day, they were still trying to process all that had happened on Good Friday, and a joyous Easter Day celebration hadn’t been on their radar. Maybe there needs to be more space within our Easter celebrations for that wondering and processing that isn’t all ‘Alleluias’ and smiles.
I value having a season of Easter. We don’t have to cram the whole of our Easter celebration into one day; making that huge shift from Good Friday lamenting, to Easter celebration in one go. It acknowledges that there may be different stages of the journey through this season, and things may not all be magically resolved at the end of it.
Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus from the cross in Mark’s Gospel, begins with that cry of despair – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It doesn’t sound very appropriate for Easter, but may provide a pattern for how we travel through this time when we don’t feel the full force of Easter joy. Those faithful people of God who heard Jesus’ cry would likely have known that the psalm doesn’t remain in such a desperate tone. Instead, the psalmist continues to believe, despite their current circumstances, that one day God will respond and rescue, and that they will come again to praise God in the great congregation. They remember God’s action in the past, and trust in that memory for future hope. In rediscovering the form of lament in our worship, we may find ways of expressing hope even in the midst of despair, and acknowledging the new life of Easter, even in the midst of feeling the trouble of Good Friday.
Finally, I wonder whether an adaptation of another Christian tradition may help those who struggle at this time. Christians have been encouraged to see every Sunday as a ‘mini-Easter,’ celebrating that new life of Christ each week of the year. However, I wonder whether in a similar spirit, we might consider marking each Friday as a ‘mini-Good Friday.’ There are some Christian traditions who fast every Friday to remember Christ’s Passion. We may not go to that extent, but we may wish to use each Friday in some way to mark the pain, suffering and brokenness in our lives or in the life of our world. This can remind us that it is okay not to be okay, or not to be full of happiness all the time.
The empty crosses and focus on the resurrection speak a powerful message to all who come into our churches or join us in worship. But maybe we need to make more space to remember the suffering Christ, and to acknowledge the realities of Good Friday in our lives and in our world, even as we take part in our Easter celebrations.