The triduum – the last three days in Holy Week – have their own momentum, such momentum as to make me wonder every year how people arrive at Easter without experiencing the journey towards Sunday. I’m talking religious people, of course; presumably the rest of the world spares the Passion nary a thought unless they happen to be watching the current version on the telly.
On this Good Friday afternoon, I’m already noting the characteristics of this year’s season. Last night, we celebrated the Last Supper at nine in the evening. As we entered the church, we noted new marks of vandalism in the porch – names and slogans scribbled on the doors and on the memorial cross, a small fire stinking in a corner, the water with which it had been doused staining the doormat. Encouraged to think of it in terms of the events we were recalling, I thought of the careless violence of life, the ribaldry of the thoughtless, the anger of the unloved. And somehow the familiar church didn’t feel as safe as usual, attendance less … mainstream, more outlandish than I’d been used to.
As if to underscore such thoughts, the gales seemed to attack us suddenly as we entered the phase of quiet contemplation round the Gethsemane altar. The words of the gospel reading were drowned in the sounds of great heaving gusts of air which rattled the slates high above and threatened to burst open the door. And again that sense of impending danger as the huge tree outside swayed unseen, groaning. And when it was over and the candles extinguished in the chill of midnight, we walked out into the assault of a snow flurry. The cold was intense; it might have been Christmas rather than Passiontide.
Today, as we watched at the foot of the Cross, it was even colder. Cold enough to freeze the emotions, cold enough to make us long for the brazier lit in the courtyard of the High Priest two thousand years ago.
So far, this has been a very northern triduum. No cosiness here, but a sense of threat, danger, hostility. Perhaps that is how it should be.