This is a time like no other. That’s certainly how it seems to many. The country is in lockdown. The Prime Minister is intensive care. Nearly all of us have a friend, relative or colleague who has become unwell with corona virus / Covid 19. Most of us know a person who is seriously unwell. Many of us know someone who, tragically, has lost their lives. There is nothing good about this virus. It takes life, shatters families, destroys livelihoods. These are unprecedented days.
In the UK we are deeply grateful for the National Health Service. Unlike many countries, our healthcare is free at the point of delivery. Excellent care is available to everyone, whatever their income. But we recognise there is a cost, not least to those who are involved at the sharp end: doctors, nurses and other medical staff who put themselves at risk day after day. Some have paid the ultimate price, giving their lives in the service of others. The rest of us owe all who work in the NHS a significant debt. If this is you, we are so grateful, and you are in our prayers.
It was a day like no other. The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday had given way to the jeering rabble of Good Friday. The terrible cry went up: crucify him! Jesus was led away, humiliated, beaten and in agony nailed to a rough wooden cross. This happened so that through it we could receive something wonderful and free. When his death finally came the ‘curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27.51).’ Probably this was the curtain that separated the sanctuary from the public forecourt. Its rending would have been a vivid physical sign: the way to God is open. The tearing from top to bottom was both dramatic and final. Something irreversible had happened. And the point is that God had done it. All people had to do was walk through. The salvation Jesus won on the cross was – and is – a free gift to us. All we have to do is receive it by faith.
Yet what a cost there is. The physical suffering alone is impossible to imagine. But something more was happening, as indicated by Jesus’ shattering cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt. 27.46)?’ He is quoting from Psalm 22 but these words describe his own personal experience at that moment. Indeed, never have those words been spoken with such deep meaning and feeling, either before or since. The modern hymn puts it well: when Jesus was on the cross ‘the Father turned his face away’. The cross is a truly God-forsaken place. Jesus dies instead of us. He bears the weight of our sin, rebellion, shame and guilt. We go free. But what a cost.
It’s always important to apply God’s word to our lives. Of course we wonder and worship. In many ways today this is enough: to stand still and contemplate the cross and all it means and praise our God. But perhaps this Good Friday we are called to something more. Faced with this unprecedented event and living in these extraordinary times God calls us to an unprecedented commitment to him. For some it’s a first-time commitment. For some it’s a recommitment. For all it’s a call to echo the words of the great hymn:
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all (Isaac Watts)
As the recipients of such a gift and faced with such a cost can we do any less?