Finding hope on Good Friday

 

GOOD FRIDAY is a day of tradition. Even if those traditions are dying rapidly, they continue to have resonance for the vast majority of people. This is a day that is deeply embedded in the national psyche, a day remembered for sombre music on the national broadcaster, closed shops and pubs across the island, and an older generation remembers fasting and lengthy services in churches.

With the decline in the credibility of religious institutions for many reasons, the sombre and penitential tone of Good Friday has been robbed of its meaning and significance for many. From today until Monday, many see these few days as just another lengthy holiday weekend – perhaps, even, the first holiday of the year with the promise of sunshine.

A tradition that is now in decline, if only because of diminishing church attendances, is the way many churches of all traditions mark the “Three Hours” of Good Friday, from noon to 3pm, reading and meditating on what are known as the “Seven Last Words,” seven phrases that the Gospels recall being spoken by the dying Christ on his Cross.

These are not merely words for the faithful and the pious; they are words that have a resonance and a relevance today that should not be forgotten. These seven words or phrases ask for forgiveness; they promise hope; they give new value to relationships; they rage against abandonment and isolation; they bluntly identify basic human needs; they seek fulfilment; and they put final trust not in failing humanity but in eternal goodness.

In a world that is broken and in sorrow, the dying Christ’s words on the cross should not be silenced because of the failures or faults of the frail and very human leadership of the Church.

Forgiveness is difficult for all of us when we demand reparation and punishment.

The promise of future hope is difficult for many to sustain in the present economic crisis.

Family relationships are never more under pressure than they are at times of financial doubt and social uncertainty.

Workers who have lost their jobs, families who have lost their homes, emigrants, migrants, the struggling people of Libya and the Middle East, all can echo the cry of anguish from a Christ who wonders whether he has been forsaken.

As we slowly and steadily wake up to the effects of global warming, the thirsty Christ identifies with the pain of all who scramble for diminishing and polluted natural resources.

The task of shaping a just and compassionate world remains an unfinished challenge.

Good Friday challenges us to look beyond the horizons of our own self-interest. We have learned recently, and at a price, that trust in our own strengths and confined to our own inner circles must never be unquestioning, can never be enough, can never be relied on. The dying Christ on the Cross calls out for fresh appraisals and on this Good Friday offers hope to all.