How are we meant to feel on Good Friday?

What are we meant to do on Good Friday? How are we meant to feel? What should we think? I wonder whether I’m slow to catch up on that which most other people probably know already. But I pose the question here and now anyway. Maybe someone can give me some pointers.

I’m not a devout Christian. I’m not a practising one. Indeed, I even wonder whether I am one. After all, if I was a Christian I surely wouldn’t be posing the questions in the first place, I’d know the answers already.

Look at it this way, take Good Friday literally.

One man is taken from prison and executed in front of a crowd of people. If we choose to look at it literally, then we’re all indulging in a day off work to mark the day someone died. Are we the crowd on the hill? Or are we a bunch of rubberneckers? Are we comfortable remembering an act of barbarism?

My simplistic approach looks laughable in type. Maybe I should be looking at the symbolism. Remembering the big Christian message behind Jesus’ death: a man dies to save everyone on earth from sin. A massive sacrifice.

If that’s the case, I’m still not clear what I’m meant to be thinking about on Good Friday. Even more unclear how I should feel.

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If we’re remembering the execution, shouldn’t we be feeling disgust? Will we experience shame when we remind ourselves that we’re still doing the same thing to one another thousands of years later? Aren’t we meant to spend the day mourning a death? Shouldn’t we be grieving for someone we never knew?

Or, if we’re meant to be considering the symbolism, are we in fact meant to be celebrating that one man died to save the rest of us from sin? And if we are, how can we celebrate when that which is listed as ‘sin’ still appears to be going on in the world?

Maybe there’s a clue in the lack of commercialisation around Easter compared with Christmas. Birth is inherently a good thing, an opportunity to celebrate. Death comes laden with sadness. It takes a pragmatic and therefore tough individual to see joy in death.

As I think more about Good Friday and what it represents, it becomes increasingly difficult to consider doing anything self-indulgent. It’s a day pumped full of contradictions and confusion. It doesn’t feel like a day for families. It doesn’t feel like a day of celebration at all. It feels like an intensely personal day, not a congregational one.

It feels like it should really be a horrible day. A day spent grappling with what it actually means and how we should act. As each year passes, so it becomes ever more difficult. And I’m still not sure how it’s meant to feel … physically. (If you don’t feel something physically, are you in danger of it not having made an impact on you?)

Maybe it’s not difficult at all. Maybe there is – quite literally – nothing to it at all.

Either way, Good Friday feels like hard work. Christmas is so much easier.

TV: Queen’s Christmas Message

Queen’s Christmas Message, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Christmas Day was rather busy what with preparing for Christmas lunch, cooking it, serving it and then watching the likes of Doctor Who and Wallace and Grommit.

All in all, a truly fab day spent in the company of family and friends.

In light of the heavy workload and rather tight schedules on the day, the only opportunity I had to observe that other Christmas tradition – the Queen’s speech – was when I sat in the bath.

I’d hate for the Queen – or the royal message – not to be a part of the Christmas Day celebrations, but the truth is that having watched it twice now I’ve got to confess that a lot of what was said was really quite a lot of white noise. This may have something to do with the fact that Her Majesty does rather have to tailor her words (assuming she actually writes the script – I suspect not) to appeal to as many peopile who are probably enebriated or stressed or sleeping off their high carb intake.

In comparison to the Pope’s poorly effort earlier in the week, Queen Elizabeth did alright spectacularly breaking the 3 minute video rule I’ve heard so much about this year, delivering her conclusion at a mere 7 minutes 30 seconds.

But for sheer punchiness and effectiveness, the Archbishop of Canterbury gets the top vote for conveying something fitting and quite possibly lasting.

Far from adhering to the religious aspect of his Christmas Day address, I was more struck by the frighteningly effecient headline message encouraging us to make “small and local gestures”.

It’s a soundbite which appeals to my self-satisfying “less is more” personal mantra. Well done Archbishop of Canterbury sir.

<a href=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00g7rh5/The_Queen_2008/”>The Queen on TV</a>

The Queen on Radio (available outside the UK, I believe I’m right in saying).

Christmas eve traditions

Salmon terrine, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Being a blogger – and one who frequently runs short of reasonably interesting things to write about – I’m always scrabbling around looking for suitable inspiration in a bid to get my regular 500 or so words out.

Up until yesterday morning I had thought I might be thinking about whether or not I’d actually embraced the religious aspect of the festive season. It is, after all, the whole point of Christmas. Celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth and all that.

Pope Benedict’s end-of-year address to various Vatican bigwigs kind of put that thought process to rest. Gregory’s standpoint on homosexuals didn’t especially come as a surprise. He was after all just towing the party line.

But even though I’ve not hitherto possessed a latent desire to convert to Catholicism, his headline message did rather leave feel a little left out in the cold.

If I was formerly about to go through a road to Damascus experience, understand and feel the true meaning of Christmas, shun consumerism and then blog about it, Pope Benedict’s end-of-term presentation just left me painfully aware that the largest church in the world wasn’t terribly keen on homosexuals and only served to underline that religion is an earthly construct with all those hideous unpleasant rules drawn up by earthy individuals.

Hey ho. At least there’s the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I can always just sing along to the carols and relive my childhood.

There is, however, one other perhaps even more important tradition which I realise I really get off on at Christmas. It does perhaps surpass all others.

It’s the food. I love the food. Christmas food is all about preparation, preparing food for the big event on Christmas Day. It’s about project management. It’s about keeping a reasonably careful eye on the budget whilst juggling the schedule and keeping in mind the grand vision.

In short, Christmas food is about being a producer. It calls on nerves of steel, untold amounts of energy, patience, understanding, persuasion, boundless amounts of enthusiasm and an overwhelming sense of excitement at the prospect of seeing the end product light up the eyes of its recipients.

Nine people will sit around a six foot round table in our lounge tomorrow afternoon. Everything that can be has been prepared already (the salmon terrines are looking especially fab, personally speaking whislt Nigella’s gingerbread stuffing as yet uncooked offers much for tomorrow). Four hours in the kitchen yesterday, another four today. At times the place looked like a bomb had hit it. Now, it’s prepared ready for the big day, all of it ready in time to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – the very beginning of Christmas.

Church sermon

Was I suffering from a hangover? Was I tired? Was I coming down with some hideous end-of-the-Proms cold brought on the sudden realisation the season was at an end and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief?

I should really have been paying closer attention to the responses I was meant to be participating in during the baptism service of the newest family member. I found it difficult to focus on the words printed in the order of service, whatever the reason for that was.

Father Joe was conducting the event for a reasonably large crowd of family members (there were two baptism running concurrently). It was the second time in the space of two months I’d found myself in a church.

I could participate in the responses but somehow didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I might have been happy to bob up and down at the Last Night of the Proms the night before, but I was hesitant saying the Lords Prayer. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. If I didn’t believe it, how could I recite it? I’m a stickler, no doubt about that.

Father Joe was unexpectedly engaging and reassuring when it came to his mini-sermon mid-way through proceedings.

He drew attention to the gurgling and crying babies in the church. Don’t be irritated by them, welcome them into your lives. All children are welcome in God’s home. After all, that was the reason we were there anyway.

He expanded the point further, adding that when the children are crying in our lives, or in our homes or, indeed, anywhere near us, we shouldn’t ignore them. We shouldn’t tell them they shouldn’t cry just because it’s irritating or seemingly not appropriate to the surroundings they find themselves in. Allow them to express themselves. Engage with them. They are a part of the home, a part of your life.

Father Joe’s platitudes were, to a certain extent, lost on me. I have no children nor have the desire to father or parent any.

Still, his sincere delivery and engaging tone made me listen to his every word and left me thinking about the children I know and those I don’t.

Whilst the religious significance of his words still remains lost on me, the humanist implications of his sermon haven’t been.

Whatever it was I was suffering from before, during and after today’s family baptism, I’m left with the very strong thought that more of us should think more about those children around us who could well be trying to attracting our attention.

What do they need ? And can you help them?

(The picture above is the stained glass window I spied during Father Joe’s sermon earlier on today.)