Christ is stripped

Good Friday is the starkest day of the church’s year. Usually when we come into church this day, we find the church stripped of ornaments and furnishings, as though it has been burgled. We are denuded of our religious comforts. 

The only possessions that Christ had were the clothes he stood up in; and he was stripped of them before he was crucified. What little he had was taken from him as the soldiers divided them among themselves and cast lots for the seamless robe. 

He had likewise been stripped of friends and followers. The adulatory crowds who acclaimed his entry into Jerusalem had disappeared, to be replaced by a mob that demanded his crucifixion. His disciples had fled following his arrest, one had betrayed him and Peter, the rock, had been stripped of his courage as he denied knowing him. With Jesus on Mount Calvary were just John, the beloved disciple, his mother Mary and the women with them. Even they became lost to him, as on the cross he is stripped of all consolation, and he feels the desolation of abandonment by his Father, for one terrible moment. In the tomb his body lies alone as the stone is rolled across and sealed.

In this time of restrictions and confinement we too have been divested of so much. Some of this can be considered good. Some of us find our busyness has been stripped away, we are given time to contemplate and think about what is really important. We have time to draw close to God. We have been stripped of our insatiable hunger to purchase and consume, we are not rushing from place to place.

But much of our stripping is hard, especially the separation from those we love, but cannot be with. We have been stripped of physical contact, of a loving kiss or an embrace. Many have been stripped of their livelihoods, they have lost jobs and accommodation. Some have been stripped of a sense of security, of confidence for the future, of their mental wellbeing. Most painfully of all we see people who are dying stripped of the reassurance of the presence with them of their partners and families.

However there are still consolations: families have been consoled by the knowledge that those whom they love have not died alone, but have had nurses with them. Nurses are sometimes known as angels. Anyone who brings love and comfort to the bereft, perhaps just by being there, might be considered an angel, an agent or messenger of God.

Christ was not truly alone for long.His sense of abandonment was momentary, as at the end he commended his spirit into the hands of his Father. He knew he was there. And the tomb, as we will hear on Easter day, could not contain him. The cruelty of Jesus’ death was one small moment of his 33 years or so in this world. Yet its effects were for all time. By dying on the cross he brought his life in the world to its tragic, inevitable fulfilment.,In his death, his life was consummated. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies’, he had said, ‘it remains one seed, but if it dies it produces many seeds.’

Painful though it is, we must observe his stripping, witness his suffering and feel his pain. We have to see the Lord we love die and his body placed in the tomb. That is the obligation for Christians on Good Friday. We must endure his passion and death to truly know the liberating power of his resurrection, that strips death of its finality, that divests us of our fears, that restores our hope, so we can say defiantly with St Paul, death, where is thy sting. Grave where is thy victory?’