This has been a Holy Week like none other that I have lived through. As we’ve journeyed through the events and emotions of those last days of Jesus’ life, we’ve seen the story mirrored in real time in our news media. We hear on a daily basis reports about condemnation and humiliation; about degradation and lack of agency. And yet at the same time we’re hearing about kindness and courage and compassion. The unfolding of the tragic situation in Ukraine, and – let’s not forget – in other parts of the world, is serving as a good reminder that whatever the potential for evil in the lives and minds of human beings, that potential sits alongside the potential for acts of love and grace in even the bleakest of situations.
Holy Week is always an emotional roller coaster, and this year more than ever. We respond to it in different ways, depending on what else is having an impact for us. For most of us, there have been days when we’ve felt completely overloaded; days when watching yet another news report from a conflict zone was more than we could manage. Our 24/7 news world means that we can easily be bombarded with tragedy. And allowing ourselves to sink into a place of despair doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the people who are living in the midst of conflict and, actually, it doesn’t help us – it just reminds us how little we can do to change the situation.
So what are we doing here as we gather on Good Friday? It’s easy to turn all of our focus to the act of brutality that is central to today’s story. But that is reductionist. The journey to Calvary, the falls and the challenges serve to show us in very stark terms that Jesus shared in the whole range of human experience and emotion. When we are struggling to put one foot in front of the other, the Good Friday story reminds us that Jesus knew that pain. When we see humiliation and degradation of human beings, we know that Jesus lived through similar experiences. The Incarnate God whose presence we honour in each and every act of worship, experienced human behaviour at its best and at its worst. The Jesus we meet at Calvary modelled for us what it is to be resilient – to see the story through to its bitter and desperate end.
That end is central to the Christian story – but it’s not the whole story or the final page of the story. Good Friday is the day when we are starkly reminded of the capacity that we have – not just those people out there in Ukraine or at Calvary, but each one of us – the capacity within humanity for behaving in ways that we didn’t think was possible. To a large extent, people find themselves drawn into committing atrocities because of the situation they are in. There is a clear parallel between the Roman soldiers and the Russian conscripts – young men for whom the stark options are kill or be killed.
Today isn’t the end of the Jesus story. The destruction of Mariupol isn’t the end of the Ukraine story. Our Gospel story takes us through death to resurrection, to a place of hope and life; a place where brutality doesn’t have the final word, where human dignity re-emerges. We see dignity in the women and other disciples who find a way to remain at the foot of the cross until the bitter end – and then to take care of his body. They are evidencing the human ability for resilience that we, and they, have already witnessed in Jesus.
We see that same resilience in Volodymir Zelensky and in those who refuse to give up their land. We see it in the defiance of Afghan women and girls; in the bravery of truth-telling Russian journalists, in the lives of people who came to the UK as refugees.
Good Friday is a day to remind ourselves of our own capacity for resilience. Following the way of the cross isn’t easy or always straightforward. There will be times when we stumble; times when we encounter the worst examples of human behaviour. We are called to walk with Jesus – to find a way to keep going; to find a way to remind ourselves that God promises so much more than the tragedy that threatens to envelop us; to dig deep and trust that God will resource and sustain us through this chapter of our lives and beyond.