If you have lived as long as I have, you will remember what Good Friday used to be like in the fifties. It was a day of solemn remembrance. My family would have hot cross buns for breakfast, and then we would go to church. We knew and loved the special hymns : “There is a green hill far away”; “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “Alas and did my Saviour die…” and there would be readings from the Gospel about the crucifixion. It would finish with communion. Our service only lasted about an hour, but some churches had services three hours long, from mid day to three o’clock in the afternoon.
All the shops were closed, and the banks, and people talked in hushed voices and a general air of solemnity prevailed.
Easter Saturday was much more light hearted. But Easter Day itself dawned with a burst of joyful celebration! WE often had family or friends staying and we would have a special breakfast, the children would be given Easter eggs, and then we would go off to church. We children loved it! In my memory, the weather was always sunny, with spring flowers everywhere, and everyone was happy. We sang our favourite hymns, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!” “Up from the grave he arose!” “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son!” The whole weekend was a time of reflection on the Cross and the Resurrection.
I don’t remember when it began to change. When did the shops begin to stay open on Good Friday? When was it treated like any other day? Business as usual? When did the whole of Easter become a commercial opportunity as the population binged on chocolate and hot cross buns, and lamb was on the Sunday menu rather than seen as a symbol of sacrifice? The decline of Easter as a time of any spiritual significance for most people must have slowly happened over several decades.
It is not crises which bring about indifference to religion and spiritual things: it is the creeping distraction of other things. Entertainment, prosperity, material possessions, sports, business, family matters, not necessarily bad things. They are what the Bible identity as weeds which choke the seed, the “cares of life”. At first they distract, then they preoccupy, then they overwhelm. Crises on the other hand cause a re-think, a re-evaluation of priorities , a separation of the urgent from the profoundly vital.
In these days of lockdown, a re-think is taking place. Questions are being asked: will this spell the end of Christianity, or will it produce a glorious burst of revival? (Spectator April 2020) To be honest, I hope it will bring an end to Christianity as we know it. All too often Church has become routine, predictable, formulaic. Where is the excitement, joy and awe? Why are we satisfied with an hour of singing some songs and a few blessed thoughts? Where is the presence of God?
To be fair, it isn’t all like that, thank God! I have been in some terrific meetings with great preaching. Many churches are full of wonderful saints serving the poor in the community, loving each other and giving sacrificially. Pastors are caring for their flocks with compassion and diligently working at delivering good sermons. I am grateful!
Yet do you yearn as I do for days when we couldn’t wait to get to church because we expected to meet with God? When worship was full of powerful truth that brought us before the throne? When we could be electrified by a word of knowledge, a prophecy, a testimony of God’s intervention?
This crisis probably will change the church: it will be different. Who knows how we shall meet in the future? Shall we return to our church buildings on Sunday mornings, with no great expectations of God speaking to us? I hope and pray that whatever it will look like, there will be an outbreak of celebration that will run and run, because we shall be delighted to find that multitudes who are now in the valley of decision, have come to Christ. Many who are now lost will be found; many now broken-hearted will be surprised by joy. Many who thought that God was dead will find that he is very much alive!
Its Friday now, but Sunday is coming