On this day every year people say, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”—a question I consider quite often these days.
So here’s my attempt to address this painful, deeply paradoxical question.
A star bathed shepherds’ hills in light
The night that Christ was born—
Was this the glory of God?
Stone jars of water turned to wine
At Cana on that wedding day:
And was this the glory of God?
The lame man walked. The blind could see.
The leper left his sores behind.
So was this the glory of God?
The women grieved & Jesus wept.
Then Lazarus was restored to life.
Was this not the glory of God?
Under waving palms & cheering cries
He rode a humble donkey colt.
Surely this was the glory of God?
Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to a tree,
Shamed before friend & foe—
He was lifted high
On a cruel cross.
Does glory shine out here?
The temple curtain tore in two.
The voice of His Father was heard.
Glory. Glory!—more than ever in this world.
Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to the tree,
This—even this—was the glory of God.
© Words Lizzie Ballagher. Image of Lampedusa Cross © Trustees of the British Museum only, used by permission.
Crown of Thorns
Head dipped below its slightest weight,
Eyes glazed with double suffering,
Did Jesus dream the garden
Where he played in childhood,
Where damask roses knotted, clotted red & white
Across an arch once crafted by his earthly father Joseph?
Do not believe such maudlin fantasies!
Whatever Pyotr Ilych thought
On looking at the tenth Station (where Christ was stripped
Of all His garments & took on that vicious coronet),
The thorny crown was not a crimson ring of roses;
That so-called garland caused no dainty drops
Of scarlet blood-petals on Jesus’ blessed brow;
It did not smell of sweetness but of sweated, abject anguish.
A parish artist, though (a score of centuries later
In a hidden church among the folded fields)
Conceived a vision of that torment.
In remembrance of that day he made
A wheel of infinite woe, infinite sorrow
On a hoist as high as a gallows tree
Below the stark Alpha of black-block roof beams;
He wove a circle of wooden spikes & branches:
A twist of twigs with stubs & sticks & strands & spines of pain,
A jagged agony & testament to human butchery.
Two thousand years now gone below the bridge Christ built
Between the earth and heaven, between the temple curtain torn in twain,
The crown of thorn still witnesses
Who wept alone in olive dusk above Gethsemane;
Who hung amid the skulls & rubbish on high Calvary;
Who rose, in spite of death; came back to us in Galilee.
© Lizzie Ballagher
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky composed a Good Friday anthem for children called “Legend” which was translated into English by W G Rothery. In this song he imagines that the child Jesus gathered roses that would one day form his crown of thorns.
The parish artist is Keith Pettit of Creation Signs, East Sussex, UK.