Last week I managed to get to see the film Mary Magdalene, during its ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ run in London cinemas.
It’s a thoughtful portayal of Mary and her relationship with the other disciples and with Jesus, much of it necessarily apocryphal, but nonetheless believable.
It concludes with the Passion – dramatic scenes of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and the crowd going wild with excitement; but soon after, bloody scenes of the crucifixion, in which we are reminded that Mary was one of the few who didn’t run away. Then, finally, Jesus appears to Mary outside the tomb, making her the first witness of the resurrection.
Dramatisations of the Passion have a long tradition – the medieval mystery plays, Oberammergau, and a succession of films. They go a long way towards capturing the emotional intensity of the events. But however vivid they may be, these dramatisations always have something missing. We can re-enact the horror of the crucifixion, the lifeless body being taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb, and then the risen Christ reappearing on the third day. But what we cannot possibly capture is the cosmic transformation of those 36 hours.
There is a gap between Good Friday and Easter which is beyond our comprehension. It crosses the boundary between life and death, so that we can never penetrate it. But it is in this gap, in the apparent emptiness, where the universe is changed.
In this gap, not only are Pilate’s corruption, Judas’s betrayal, and Mary’s grief overcome, but all corruption, all betrayal and all grief. As one of our Anglican eucharistic prayers puts it: ‘He opened wide his arms for us on the cross, he put an end to death by dying for us, and revealed the resurrection by rising to new life.’
This cosmic transformation embraces all the horror of the world –
the latest atrocities in Syria, and all who are victims of forces beyond their control. Nailed to the cross, Jesus gathers together all this agony, and takes it with him to die.
The gap between Good Friday and Easter is important. Jesus does not simply get down from the cross, as the bystanders encouraged him to. That would have been too easy, and an insult to all who suffer. The hours of silence between Jesus’ death and resurrection take seriously the pain and the suffering of the world. This is the time when Jesus ‘descended into hell’. But in this time in hell, in a way that we cannot comprehend, hell has its power taken from it.
Suffering and death do not have the final word, however devastating they may be. In the gap between the crucifixion and the resurrection, human mortality and corruptibility are overcome, and God’s kingdom of justice, peace and integrity is opened to us as the way that leads to eternal life.
The events we commemorate today took place 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. They have been re-enacted countless times since. But their effect is for all times and in all places, for us and for all creation.
This can never be re-enacted, as it can never be fully comprehended – but it is our assurance that today is indeed Good Friday, the beginning of the salvation of the world. Amen.