Nursery Rhymes and Solemn Liturgies
This year, I regarded the prospect of ‘good’ Friday with a mixture of physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion. I had a strong sense of coming empty-handed to the familiar story and having none of the energy needed to reach out a hand and grasp even the simplest of resources from a story which has been speaking to me at so many different levels for more than seven decades.
Some of my fatigue is the product of twelve days spent with our Scottish family and two children under five, one of them with severe health challenges. For me, being a babysitting grandmother is a complex physical, mental and spiritual experience. It calls out in me the child who loves to play, the mother who still loves to feed and cuddle and sing nursery rhymes and lullabies – I love it! The round of nappy-changing, meal feeding, toy tidying and baths and bedtimes is physically relentless but there is something grounded about it.
Somehow, life with small children makes me fully alive in a way I am not when there are just the two of us, pottering around in an existence that seems so much less significant than the presence of children makes it. Decisions in their still pliable young lives are constantly being made, imaginations being shaped, attitudes being formed, futures being made more or less likely. Life with children - one of them a highly intelligent four and a half year old is full of visceral reminders to ask oneself anew what is really important - especially in the face of the troubled world where tyrants strut and ecological deterioration and climate change threaten. In this world that will very soon belong to them, what resources can we give these precious ones for their future?
It was with all these questions in my mind that I made the almost instinctive decision this morning to go, as I have for many years, to the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy in our parish church about half a mile away. The service is stark in its simplicity. Two priests dressed simply in black cassocks, an unadorned altar and a quiet congregation participating in prayers and hymns and silences and taking it in turns to hold up the rough wooden cross. The heart of the service for me comes when two chapters from the gospel of John are read aloud and the members of the congregation stand throughout. Once again, I heard the story of God’s response to evil in all its various forms – some simple, some sophisticated, some deliberate and some unknowing, as various emotional and physical cruelties take Jesus to his crucifixion in the darkness of Golgotha. It is a story full of small cameos revealing fearful, egotistical defensive human responses to goodness and generosity in someone they don't understand.
And like the women, I ‘stood at a distance watching these things’ and felt myself drawn in, once again, to the recognition of and confrontation with values that have always been important in human life and will continue to be valuable for the next generation however difficult they are to develop in any generation: integrity, loyalty, honesty, confession, forgiveness, perseverance.
At the heart of the Golgotha story, as the poet priest Malcolm Guite says is, ‘the tree where love and hatred meet and love stays true‘. Here we see what love can bear and be and do’.
Knowing from experience ‘what love can bear and be and do’ will continue to offer different challenges to life in every generation. This Good Friday has challenged me afresh to keep seeking to know them in mine.