Good Friday reflection by Jim Harris, St Olave Church
Donatello and Workshop, The Crucifixion, bronze, c.1460-66; San Lorenzo, Florence Image © Jim Harris
Good Friday without church is the strangest thing.
But this unique moment mirrors with eerie clarity the isolation that sits at the heart of what we people believe Jesus did, which is to give himself up utterly, to be lost and abandoned in solidarity with every lost and abandoned person who ever lived.
On Good Friday, the promise of resurrection, of Easter Day, is absent, far off and out of sight. But that’s the point, really.
Real solidarity is expressed not in the light of a longed for future but in the bleak hopelessness of a dark present.
To be crucified is to be lonely.
It is to be placed out of reach.
It is to be accessible only from the end of a stick.
To be crucified is to be isolated.
Even in the busiest, most crowded images of his death, Christ is alone and apart amid the clamour and confusion.
He cannot be touched and so he cannot be comforted by the hand of his Mother or his friends.
He cannot help himself and he cannot be helped.
He can only die.
In this relief sculpture of the Crucifixion, modeled in wax and cast in bronze by the sculptor Donatello for the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, in the early 1460s, Jesus is surrounded by a seething confusion of bodies.
Here are his accusers and judges, those who wanted him dead and those whose responsibility it was to kill him.
Here are those tasked with keeping the peace in a volatile and dangerous environment.
Here are those who mourn him, who have loved him and followed him, who have eaten with him and rejoiced with him, who have learned from him and been transformed by him, who have found common cause with each other because of him.
And above all of them, stretched out and immobile, struggling to breathe, alone and apart from the chaos, is Jesus.
But in this moment of awful solitude, it is not only Christ who is lonely.
To the left sits a woman, collapsed, quite unable to lift her head to look on him.
Next to her, veins bulging in her neck, another strains to bridge the unbridgeable gap between herself and Christ.
And at the very foot of the cross, stand Jesus’ mother and his friends Mary Magdalene and John, their heads declined, their faces covered.
They do not look at him. They cannot bear to witness his unbearable pain.
They do not reach to touch one another, because they cannot help each other.
There are no outstretched hands or mourning embraces.
For each of them, their grief is unique, formed to the exact shape and precise nuance of their own relationship with Christ, their own history, their own experience of his healing, their own certainty of his love.
It is no-one else’s grief. It is theirs alone. It cannot be shared.
So for each of them, too, in all this mass of cruel humanity, their isolation is complete.
For them, Jesus’ cry from the cross - ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ - is the cry of their own hearts.
For us, as we try once again to see if we can bear to consider Christ’s cross, as we come once again to witness this terrible, unnecessary end, this year is different.
This Good Friday, for the first time, we are without one another’s comfort.
We are without the clasped hand and the physical solidarity of sorrow.
We are without the shared silence of the sacred space.
We are without each other; and the contemplation of abandonment, of the moment when God abandons his Son, the moment when Jesus allows himself to be abandoned, feels like our own.
We are abandoned too.
Look again, though, at Donatello’s sculpture, because here’s the thing.
This is not The Good Friday, not the only one.
We will sit together and watch and keep vigil again, if not this year then on other Fridays in other years.
This is not our last chance to witness together the awful articulation of our redemption.
Even now, as we experience the same loneliness as the mourners at the foot of the cross, the same helplessness in the face of events too dreadful to gaze upon and which we cannot control, the same separation and lonely dread, we can say this:
that nothing we experience has not already been experienced.
Nothing we endure has not already been endured.
Nothing we suffer has not already been suffered.
And, even if we are not gathered again complete and whole, even if our collective body is damaged and broken and its members are lost, nothing that we are afraid cannot be overcome has not already been overcome.