Reflection for Good Friday

Who would be there for you on the worst night of your life?

The events of the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week always take me by surprise. Always.

There’s always something about starting on that road to Jerusalem — the celebrations, the dinner with friends, the joy and laughter, on a bright sunny day when the streets of Glasgow are become the streets of Jerusalem, when you can’t even begin to imagine what is coming next.

Two months ago tonight, I was driving to England. It had been a bright, sunny day — the kind of day that comes in late January, when you start to believe that spring is a thing that might happen someday. “It is sunny, and I have had hot coffee, and I am spending my day in good teaching. Life is quite excellent,” I’d said on Twitter. That evening, I had got in my car and set off on the journey to Newcastle to celebrate my mum’s sixtieth birthday with her and her loved ones.

I didn’t know what was coming next.

The next day, I drove her to have a haircut for her party, and frantically ordered same-day delivery flowers because the hat I was meant to be knitting for her was as yet tragically unknitted, and I stirred the huge pot of curry she always asked for whenever I’d be cooking, and I still didn’t know. And when her family and friends flooded into the house to begin the celebrations — cake, presents, fizz — none of us knew what was coming next.

The celebration descended into hours of chaos and terror, as sudden illness took hold and blue lights lit up the sky and the bottom dropped out of all our worlds. It brought us to a long watch in an emergency department and in an intensive care unit, as evening gave way to night and night broke into the thin grey light of a winter morning. A few days later, when it had become clear that nothing more could be done, in a room with people she loved, came death and the beginnings of an ununderstandable grief.

This story of the things that happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago is all a little bit real, this year.

The story of the Passion is about a lot of things.

It’s about a man who wanted to make the world a better place. It’s about the choices we make, and the lives we choose to lead. It’s about learning what bravery looks like, and that the right thing is not the same as the easy thing. It’s about enemies reconciled, friends forgiven, and strangers made welcome. It’s about that there are indeed worse things in the world than no longer being alive.

I’ve often thought about those things when I’ve come to the cross on Good Friday.

But this year, the story of the Passion for me has been about that one question:

Who would be there for you on the worst night of your life?

On the nights when you wrestle with questions about life and death, and you don’t have any of the answers. On the nights when everything that has happened in the last 28 hours — and has it really only been 28 hours? — is right there every time you close your eyes but also doesn’t make any sense. On the nights when you haven’t slept, and you can’t stand up straight anymore, and your only prayer is a howl into a vast wilderness.

I was sitting at the back of church last night, after our gorgeous and joyous festival had descended into chaos and terror, and I was thinking about that question.

Because the story of the Passion is the story of the people who are there on those nights.

It’s about people who get in their cars and drive through the night without asking, and without hesitating. It’s about people who will take on the task of making food, and making tea, and making sure that everyone is looked after, and who are surprised when you try to thank them.

It’s about nine paramedics, and a resuscitation team, and the staff of an intensive care unit. I’ve seen the face of one of them over and over again in my mind’s eye these last two days. Her kindness and her ferocity. I’ll never know what her name was.

It’s about the people who prop you up when you might fall down — even when they have to do it from the other side of a border buried under snow.

And the people who are there to hold your hand, right until the very end.

And the ones you come home to when it’s all over.

Those people were in Jerusalem, too.

They were there in Simon, and in Veronica, and in Joseph, and the ones who stayed, right there at the foot of the cross, right until the very end.

This is the story of the that week in Jerusalem, and of our lives right here and right now.

It’s a story of the family that we choose for ourselves.

And a story of the kindness of strangers whose names we don’t know but whose faces we won’t forget, who stepped in and became part of our story, and, even in our grief, made it better.

There are stories worth telling. There are truths worth living.

This is one of them.

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Photo: Kelvin Holdsworth

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