Good Friday Reflections – 15th April – Penny Ashton

Good Friday 2022 – Deliver us from evil

I am very aware that there are people listening to me now who know their bibles very well, and will have noticed that I have shortened the gospel account from John of Jesus execution.  Had I included the full reading that our lectionary sets for today, Angie would have had some 3000 words to read.  I am also aware that there are people here who will have found some parts of the service difficult as we all come from different traditions.  The important thing, however is that we are all here, all together and will walk together behind the cross after this service to place it on a hill in the middle of town to remind people what their holiday with its buns and chocolate eggs is actually all about.

Yesterday evening we held a service of communion and shared a simple meal of bread and cheese together in this church as has been our custom for the last few years – with a break of course for Covid.  After this meal and service, we strip the church of all decorations so that for today and tomorrow it is reduced to bare wood and stone.  I grew up in an evangelical Anglican church in Southsea, which did not go in for rituals or symbolic acts, and the first time I saw the church being stripped I was surprised at how moving I found it.  We have removed from this place of worship everything that might distract us from the bare facts that are placed before us in our bible readings.

In this church for the period of Lent we have been looking in our reflections at the Lord’s Prayer, and the phrase that has been allocated to today is ‘Deliver us from evil’.  So considering that as our theme for today, and looking around us at the church building which has been stripped back to the bare elements, raises the question – why do we call it Good Friday.  We have heard that it was the day when the central figure of our faith – we all call ourselves Christians after all – was betrayed and sold by a friend, submitted to a sham trial, was stripped, flogged, denied and deserted by his friends and put to death with criminals by the will of the religious leaders of his day who almost blackmail the governor of the occupying power to get the sentence that they want.  Finally, his body was given a rushed burial in a borrowed tomb and left with an armed guard in case of grave robbers.   As Isaiah put it – ‘He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’

And yet since the 4th century – for some 1700 years, this has been one of the three days of celebration of Easter and although among many this is a day for penance and fasting before the great celebration that comes on Sunday.  We have the advantage over those disciples who mostly fled in the gospel accounts – we know how the story goes on.  We know the truth of Psalm 30 v 5 – ‘Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’  We were reminded by the last person to preach at this united service that we are an Easter people – I would take it further – we are a resurrection people.

We have not been able to meet together like this since 2019 – three years ago and they have been years that many people found hard.  In that time, we have lost many people whom we loved – some to the pandemic itself, and others to other things.  Many of us have found it hard to mourn as we need to or have been denied the provision of fitting funerals.  We have also been unable to celebrate the seasons of joy – the wonder of the incarnation at Christmas, or the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Surely the fact that we can at last come together today underlines the Good in Good Friday.

I spoke earlier of the differences that you would find if you visited each of the churches represented her today – differences in layout and style of worship.  I would suggest though that the one thing that we all have in common – and that you would find in each of our churches is the symbol that we gather around today – every one of us, somewhere in our church buildings will have a cross – some of us many and ornate, others fewer, some very plain and simple, but each of them will be unmissable and unmistakeable.  As St Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2 and verse 2: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (I Cor 2:2)

Or as the Message version puts it: ’I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified’.

And in that message – boiled down to its bare facts, stripped if you like of all decoration, we have the reason why this day is called Good Friday.  The reason why we are able to set aside our differences and worship as one body – one church, one faith one Lord as the hymn says.  And why we can know that because of all this, because of the obedience of Jesus in going to the cross, we have been delivered from evil.

But today is not an ending.  The disciples thought that it was, and mostly hid in fear and grief – and who can blame them.  As I said earlier – we know what happened next, and that is why we must not just use today to look back – Easter Sunday could not have happened without there being a Good Friday, but let us not get stuck there – just as we will celebrate Jesus glorious resurrection on Sunday, so we have to find a way to move forward from the crises that we have endured over the past years, and still – in places like Yemen and Ukraine – endure today.  It is important too that we do not seek to go back to what we have always known – our God has said ‘Behold I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5).  To move towards the unknown new from the comfortable well known is not easy and will certainly at times be uncomfortable, but I believe it will be worth it.  I also believe that Pope Francis was right when he said, ‘To emerge from this crisis better than before, we have to do so together; together, not alone. Together. Not alone, because it cannot be done. Either it is done together, or it is not done. We must do it together, all of us, in solidarity.’ (Pope Francis, General Audience, September 2, 2020.

More and more we will need each other for support, for encouragement and to remind us at all times that we have more in common than divides us.  To bring each other back on occasions to ‘first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did.’  Today we look to, follow and proudly place in the middle of our town, the cross, because on the cross the work of God’s redemption was perfected.  We read that the last enemy to be overcome is death (I Corinthians 15:26).  In the words of John Donne in his holy sonnet no 10 – Death be not proud he finished with the words ‘And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.’  In the Lord’s prayer we ask to be delivered from evil.  And as Jesus said from the cross – ‘It is finished’.