The brutal death of those Christians in Garissa who were killed just because they were Christian reminds us what this day is about: forgiveness and sacrifice — a forgiveness and sacrifice drenched in blood and suffering. Here in the West we like our Good Friday sanitized. Our crucifixes are often impossibly pious, plastic representations of ectomorphic figures stretched on equally impossible crosses that inspire little devotion. More rarely, they are beautiful, sometimes even bejewelled, objects of delicate workmanship and exquisite materials.
As we chart the changes in design, we glimpse differences in perception, shifts in devotion, that underline how our understanding grows, takes new forms, throws new light on the death of Christ: the poignant twist of the body (added in the ninth century), the heavy crown of thorns (added in the thirteenth), the head raised towards the Father (mainly since the seventeenth century) find a parallel in the music and poetry of the age that created them. But always there is that distancing from the blood and horror of the event. It takes a Julian of Norwich, writing of the drying wind that passed over Calvary, or the falling of Christ’s blood in drops as large as a herring scale, to jerk us out of our complacency.
Ultimately, of course, it is our own experience that enables us to interpret the crucifix. Do we see it as a hammer with which to bludgeon others into submission? You must believe as I do or you are destined for hell. Or do we see it as a symbol of love and mercy, unmerited love and mercy, that somehow, amazingly, redeems us from sin and death? A miracle of grace meant to be shared with others.
Good Friday 2015 is one with that day on which Christ died for our sins in Roman Palestine two thousand years ago. It asks of us just as much as it asked then. Will we follow in the way of forgiveness and sacrifice, however brutal or messy that may be, or do we choose something else, something less demanding?