Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends the last three hours of his life – from noon until 3 pm - on an execution cross, conscious, and occasionally speaking. If he spoke a little, he certainly thought and prayed much more. Present in his mind, and evidenced by his cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (a quotation from the psalms), would have been the holy writings of his faith – the Old Testament. The first five books of the Old Testament, collected together as the Torah or Jewish Law, date from the fourth century BC. The Prophets and other Writings in the Old Testament were added during the third to first centuries BC.
We cannot know what was in his mind, beyond pain. Quite possibly, if the pain allowed, for part of the time he would have thought about the account of creation with which the Old Testament opens; for Christians believe that on the cross God who was before all things and made all things was making a new creation.
The reflection which follows imagines thoughts in the mind of Jesus, the man on the cross, the man reliving his last days and the man addressing his Father in heaven; thoughts clear or near-delirious patterned by words which he had known from childhood (Genesis Chapter 1, the opening words of the Bible).
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
I have come as light, but the world loves the darkness.
I told my friends - You too are the light of the world! Let your light shine, so that others may see and give glory to God.
Perhaps I got a little carried away there. Can they be light, when they understand so little? They are so much more comfortable when I talk about sheep: can sheep turn into light?
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
At the horizon the waters below and the waters above meet. The space between the two waters is the possibility for life.
For your first promise, made to Noah, was that never again would you destroy all life. In that great flood, the waters below the sky and the waters above the sky were reunited, and all life was almost destroyed.
Will life survive? But you have willed not only survival but glory. You have willed that the human story will not be erased but perfected, with your eternal kingdom brought to all peoples and nations. Indeed, your will be done – though around me the people surge like a rising sea, and the authorities descend like a falling sky, and the space for my life between them is being rubbed out.
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
To be human is to forget as well as to remember. To remember everything is to remember nothing.
Will they remember, ‘I am the bread of life’? Will they remember to be yeast, or only picnic baskets? Shall I ask them to break bread to remember?
Will they remember, ‘I am the true vine’, or only the six stone water-jars?
Shall I ask them to share wine to remember?
They will remember and they will forget. Noah, the first wine-grower, became drunk and lay naked, because he forgot; and Isaac drank, and gave his blessing to Jacob and not to Esau because he forgot; and your glory and your mercy Father abound in our forgetting as well as our remembering.
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years, and let there be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser night to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
I wonder what it would have been like to have had children.
You promised children to our patriarchs, above all to Abraham - ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.’
I have been harsh on my family. I see my mother and she remembers. ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ is the saying of a young man too full of himself. Even though it is true.
I wonder what it would have been like to have had children – even though all the children that have been or will be, I have had.
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Thank you for the sharing of life with friends. Especially Peter, Andrew, James and John – the ones who were with me from the beginning, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ We have not lacked for crowds; nor do we now.
Of all the things they still cannot see, that we are all your children, made in your image! ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies, yet not one of them is forgotten in your sight? Do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.’ I seem to remember also trying ravens and lilies.
The time for speaking is ending now. Yesterday I washed their feet. They will surely remember the oaks of Mamre, where you appeared to Abraham as three angels. Abraham said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.’ Abraham ordered water to be brought, but he himself did not wash your feet. I have washed their feet, and hope that even Peter can understand.
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ … And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Jonah you saved by a great sea creature, and Daniel you saved from the lions. Daniel’s words haunt me, ‘My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me because I was found blameless before him’.
Am I not blameless before you? When they brought me the woman guilty of adultery, no-one came forward to condemn her; but now my life is fading, and the accusations raised against me make a sea.
I think of the angels and the wild beasts who waited on me in the wilderness, when we began this work. All the things you said then have come to pass.
I remember the psalm I recited then:
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet are shrivelled; I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!’
I’m glad I didn’t understand it all fully then.
References for Jesus’ sayings and Biblical accounts referred to in the reflection for Good Friday:
The first creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3
The first day: John 12:46; Matthew 5:14-16; John 3:19; John 10:11; John 8:58.
The second day: Genesis 9:11 and 7:11; Mark 14:62; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 6:10
The third day: Matthew 13:24ff; John 6:35; Mark 8:14-21; Mark 14:22; John 15:1; John 2:1-11; Mark 14:23-25; Genesis 9:20-21; Genesis 27:25;
The fourth day: Genesis 15:5; Mark 3:35; John 19:26-27; Mark 10:13-16
The fifth day: Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 12:6-7 and 24-28; Genesis 18:1-4; John 13:4-10
The sixth day: Jonah 1:17-2:10; Daniel 6:16-22; John 8:10-11; Luke 6:37; Psalm 22:1 and 12-21; Luke 23:46; John 19:30