What are we going to do with Good Friday?

tesco advert

“Is Easter the new Christmas?” asks the BBC news website.

It now seems that  Easter is now the second-biggest retail event in the UK after Christmas, worth some £550 million to our hard-pressed retailers.

You can now buy – wait for it – Easter crackers for the family.  Just head for your nearest Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose

I note that Poundland (where I invariably buy my gifts for the family) offer bunny banners, egg hunting merchandise and even carrot-shaped fairy lights.  In total contrast one of my daughters, moving upmarket, has bought us an egg-speckled wreath from John Lewis.

Easter is now much more than a Chocófest for children. It has become spring’s answer to Christmas, with bunnies, decorated eggs and lots of fun.  Yellow is now the colour.

We are returning to our pagan roots in this celebration of Ēostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess who – Wikipedia tells us – is herself derived from the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn.

And the bonus for Easter, in contrast to Christmas, is that it is always a long weekend, Friday to Monday.  Days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer.  We will soon be playing cricket.

However, there is just one problem.  Good Friday.

I note in this morning’s news that Tesco has had to apologise for its advert which proclaimed ” “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.”

Crass and insensitive, of course, but I can understand what the Tesco copywriter was trying to do.  Here we have a whole day which kicks off the holiday season – and how do we mark it?  Such a strange name too, Good Friday?  It simply invites elaboration.

I guess the nearest equivalent day in our culture is Bonfire Night, 5 November.  There throughout the land families gather to watch fireworks while holding hot chocolate and munching marshmallows.

We gaze at huge fires as we ritually burn Guy Fawkes to death.  Naturally we all gloss over the terrible details of his torture and dismemberment.  Actually you don’t want to know.

Jesus’ death was just as terrible.  Even more so, in that crucifixion is designed to prolong the agony for as long as the human frame can take such pain.

And that’s Good Friday, the cross of Jesus.

And there’s nothing you can do with the cross.  It just stands there as an affront. Not to be named in polite society.  Just an empty space, a day to be blanked out.

The miracle of Good Friday,” observes Mark Hart, “is that there was no miracle. Legions of angels stood – with swords sheathed – watching as the Son took our place.”

The danger, of course, is that we skip Good Friday and head straight for the golden uplands of Ēostre, to enjoy our chocolate and (for me, now that Lent is over) indulge in over-size cappuccinos.

But that is to miss the whole point of Easter.

As Bishop Fulton Sheen points out:  “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

For it is the cross of Jesus which changes everything and as such it brooks no rival.

For as the apostle Paul proclaims “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

And of course, Paul is quite right.  It i
s nonsense.  Literally – it makes no sense.  Just testimony to futility and pathos of life.   You can sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as much as you want but death still stand there in the wings.

But incredibly (literally) it is at the cross of Jesus we see God’s astonishing love and his passion for justice intersect.  As we see Jesus of Nazareth in his death throes, we are seeing God’s power in its most potent. Such is his love, such is his commitment to us.

And today we resist the temptation to jump straight to Easter and see the cross, so to speak, in retrospect.  Today we simply stand at the cross of Jesus and wonder.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?