Bringing up the tail end, on Friday, Good Friday, of the Bury St Edmunds Churches Together walk of witness, we were behind a large banner that said “Good Friday march: Today is Good Friday”. There must have been 600 there, a long crocodile of folk all witnessing to their Christian faith as we made our way from the Cathedral to the Market Square.
This is in a world where there are fears that Christianity is being forgotten, despised. Where many fear that materialism and consumerism have won the day. The Archbishop of York has put on record his dismay that Egg Hunts no longer mark Easter. A leading supermarket puts out an ad: ‘Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better’. These and other signs that the real reason behind Easter is being lost. Obscured at best, ridiculed at worst.
Just before the walk set off from the Cathedral, I’d been interviewed for Radio Suffolk and had said how serious Good Friday was, is, for me and countless Christians. How, with Jesus Christ, we are taken to the depths of suffering, of pain and insult, of grief and sorrow. How this day is Good, because it’s not the final state, it’s not the last word. Good Friday makes sense because of what follows. Jesus comes gloriously back to life three days later: the triumph of love over death. A story that makes meaning for each of us in our daily lives. That means we can hope even in the face of the most awful tragedy and loss in our lives. We know that God in Christ takes seriously our human condition and shapes it in hope.
So there I was, walking along in my cassock, a visible presence witnessing along with so many others. We walked passed a busker on Abbeygate Street and he, bless him, recognised our purpose and wanted to honour us. He obviously couldn’t think of any Good Friday hymns to play, so he struck up with Silent Night, Holy Night. Along with those walking with me, I was immediately taken aback. And then smiled. That he had bothered mattered a lot. That he chose a Christmas carol to play seemed strangely poignant and rather moving.
For me it brought it home suddenly that this same Jesus who was crucified on a cross – a grown man, suffering the most awful torture – was also the little baby born in a stable on that silent and holy night. The Christchild born in innocence as a refugee far from home, to poor parents, in a humble stable is the same person who died on the cross, watched by that same mother who grieved as a sword pierced her soul. In him all the despised and tortured, the lost and displaced of the world, throughout the ages, find themselves.
Both birth and death are gift. The gift of God who so loved the world that he gives us a person, a story that lasts for all time. The real story of child and man so at one with the love of God that he gives his life even unto death. He shows us a deeper humanity that takes all our grief and sorrow and enables us, despite it all, to sing the sound of the silent holiness of love, joy and hope for ever. All so that we might know a deeper humanity than tinsel and chocolate.
Happy Easter. And Happy Christmas too.