thoughtful piece in yesterday's Guardian, Giles Fraser talks about " the slow break-up of the last great nationalised industry: the Church of England." Much of what he has to say contrasts the genteel figure of fun that is the trad English vicar with the power and the energy of the Good Friday story. It is this complacent gentility that has always put me off a certain kind of church - and yet such a church, an "establishment" institution, might well have been filled for the traditional "last hour" service on this day.
In the church in which I worship, there were five people present for Christ's last hour on the Cross. It was not always so - I can remember a time not so long ago when visitors would come, and a decent handful of regulars. Today, it seems, the demand of visiting relatives, or shopping, or washing the car or whatever takes precedence. For a moment I felt ... despairing? resentful?
But look at the picture I have posted here. It comes from the stations of the Cross in the cloisters of the College at Cumbrae, and seen close up is is a crude representation. But how many people are at the foot of the cross? Five. John's Gospel seems to suggest that there were five there - though the punctuation makes it slightly ambiguous. Everyone else had gone, either from fear of association or - the majority - from indifference. Crucifixion, under Roman rule, was no big deal. It happened frequently. People would be with friends, seeing relatives, tending their donkey .....
We Christians are so close to the story of Jesus' suffering that we find it hard to realise that most people, in Roman times and now, were indifferent to his fate. However, I find it still more difficult to understand how people who would claim to be Christians do not want to stand at the foot of the Cross. Presumably they will be there to sing hosannas on Easter morning - the joy without the darkness.
But I would not have missed being present in Gethsemane garden, and at Golgotha.