Someone asks: “Why do we call today GOOD Friday rather than bad Friday…? Two thoughts occur…… I am struck re-reading John’s account of the Passion with the simple starkness of the reply of Jesus to Pilate about being a king. Jesus says: “I have simply come to bear witness to truth.”
Pilate betrays his own personal dissonance: “What is truth?”
Was Jesus crucified simply for refusing ever to deviate from what is true – whether truth underpinning authentic religious faith– or truth in a common humanity contrasted with sexual, racial or nationalistic divisiveness – or truth drawing together in love, come-what-may, our family and our friends?
A truly liberating question and vision! It is all-embracing. It encompasses an all embracing totality. We are here to bear witness to the truth: surely this says it all! But liberating though this is, we are immediately presented by it with the enduring dilemma –am I truthfully discerning today how I bear witness to what is true?
My second thought is borrowed – a post-concert poem:
A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.
I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers.
Caught temporarily in art’s neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.
So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns’ halo:
The men standing by and that one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.
By R S Thomas
The following is a reflection by a literary critic. It points to parallels between the poem, the concert and Calvary and even risks a theological interpretation.
“This poem by the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas likens the Crucifixion to a violin concert by the celebrated German violinist Fritz Kreisler. The recital could occur in almost any city, be played by any great musician, and be witnessed by anyone arriving late and thus being thrust onto the stage to behold the agony that goes into the making of true beauty.
The scene is etched in purely naturalistic images: the jaw clenched tight with the intensity of performance; the pulse pumping at the throat like a trapped moth; the pressured veins bulging at the forehead as if penned with unfading ink; the fingers twitching frenetically with contorted energy. There’s even the Freudian contention that true art is sublimated pain, a psychic unburdening, a redirection of unbearable guilt.
Yet there is the startling turn of the final stanza. That great beauty is born of great suffering is also the deepest Christian paradox. The cross was the stringed instrument upon which Christ himself was stretched taught. Instead of the bright stage lights, there is the fiercer and darker glow of the shameful thorns. In place of the fingers furiously pressing the strings, there are the grasping and bleeding hands. In lieu of the protruding veins and the quivering pulse, there is the bruised but calm head of Christ. No longer does he cry out his dereliction. He has made his final bow and uttered his Finitus est.
The differences are as stark as the likenesses. Whereas Kreisler’s music ends with its performance, the music of the Cross lives on. The recital of our salvation was played on the instrument of Christ’s very being—his life and his death. Jesus was not caught in a neurosis tamed by art; he was bound by the snares of our sin. Nor is his primary audience the Roman soldiers and the two thieves, nor is it the three Marys and the faithful John. More attentively than all of them, “the God” listened. This was no mere good man’s death. This was God’s own Son abandoned by God himself that he might make the redeeming music of our salvation.”
My wish is to try to assimilate a little more fully the mystery of why we call today Good Friday.