It is the darkest time of the Christian Year. The silence of the tomb envelopes the crucified Jesus. The spear that pierced His side also pierced the heart of His mother; it was not just Jesus on the Cross who felt the pain of abandonment. To those who had watched and who had taken his broken body to the tomb, He was now beyond human emotions; but they were not.
Their loss was total: the hopes invested in His words and His person were dashed; it was over. We cannot reconstruct their state of mind, but from what the Bible tells us of the Disciples hiding away, we know they were afraid. Grief, mixed with fear, are bad partners. The death of Jesus was the death of hope. Peter, who had denied his Master after Gethsemene, John, to whom the Blessed Virgin had been entrusted, and the rest of the Disciples went into hiding; the one exception, Judas, hanged himself. It was over. There was only the silence of the tomb. Hope had dwindled. To get out of Jerusalem alive would have to suffice.
The grief of Mary can hardly be imagined. To have watched her beloved Son die in the cruellest manner was the latest of the sacrifices demanded of her by God; always she had abided by His will; but this was asking all she had. As she heard those words asking why God had abandoned Him, it is not fanciful to suppose that she must have empathised with her Son’s anguish. Silence was a relief from the tears and the fears; but every knock at the door, every hurried footstep would have reignited both.
For us, this year, there was neither a chance to kiss the Cross on Good Friday, nor any leaving the Church in silence. But there was plenty of fear, and being confined to the house. The usual rythmns of that day were absent. In that absence we were forced to find our own way of marking the day that hope seemed to die.
For my own part, I found the Stations of the Cross at Shrewsbury moving, as I did the service at St Bartholemew the Great in London, where Fr Marcus Walker had had the foresight to prepare something for the eventuality that the Church would be closed on Good Friday. The reflections offered by the Bishop of Oxford, Stephen Croft, I found especially useful in meditating on the mysteries of this time, not least these words from his reflection on Peter’s denial:
We come with our doubts and our betrayals and our denials. We come conscious that we may be tested and found wanting in the present crisis. We bring the darkness in our hearts and our love of darkness. We do our best to bring these things into the light: to open our lives afresh to the deep grace of God. We come remembering this Jesus who invites us into the light, offers his life that we might be forgiven, loves us beyond our understanding and longs to restore us in his service, however far we have fallen.
For we know, as Mary and the Disciples did not, what comes next. We know that the darkness did not extinguish the Light of the world; we know that if Hope had died, it was so He would rise again on the third day. He died that we might be forgiven. We are not commanded to believe. We are invited to believe. The choice is ours, and we can behave as Judas did, or we can follow the example of Peter. Both men betrayed their Lord; only one repented and believed.
Our failures and shortcomings can be laid at the foot of the Cross in the sure knowledge that God forgives those who confess their sins and restores those who are penitent. May our sins lie in the silence of that tomb, and may they die that we might rise with Him and be made whole.