Good Friday has always been a solemn and sad day for me. I'm not exactly a religious person and those who know me well will know that I've since my early teens always been courting atheism on the one hand and my own religion on the other. There were distinct periods in my life when I became an atheist. My religion usually succeeds in the end but as far as my head goes, atheism is of course much more appealing. It's logical, rational and (dare I say it?) true. In my mind, I have always created a separate category of truth which I call "supernatural truth" that is quite different from real truth. This has helped me to keep my faith.
But Good Friday has always meant a lot to me, particularly in my younger days. Singaporeans can be quite rude and I've been greeted "Happy Good Friday" but on each occasion, there was never any intention to be facetious on the part of the person greeting. A person's intention is all that matters to me and so I always took the greeting well. Malaysians treat religion more seriously and they won't talk about a religion they are not familiar with. One reason why Singaporeans greet others on this day has a lot to do with the fact that it's a public holiday in Singapore and they naturally expect public holidays to be days of wild celebration.
But I was not that tolerant with a hotel which sent out its flyers advertising its spread of "Good Friday buffet". "Come celebrate" it says. I called up the Food and Beverage Manager to give him a piece of my mind. That was before the advent of digital cameras or I would most certainly have taken a pic and posted it here.
For a long time, Good Friday was a day of fasting for me. I would attend the Service of the Seven Words which stretched from 12 noon (the hour when the sky turned black) to 3pm (the moment when our Lord died). Those who are not Christians may not know this but there are essentially seven separate services in this marathon church service, complete with seven different sermons! I used to think rather irreverently (although I have never really said it) that I wasn't sure which was worse - to be on the cross or in the church on Good Friday.
As in any church on Good Friday, the altar in my old parish church was stripped bare and the cross was draped with an old piece of rough cloth (unlike the expensive-looking satin used in my current church, very much to my annoyance). The sombre mood was further increased in my old parish church by the attendance of an old Indian lady who always appeared on her own, dressed in a sari of solemn colour and she would always sit not far from us. She would weep quietly throughout the service and from time to time, she would mutter something inaudible. Once, she happened to sit next to me and this time, curious as to what it was she would be saying, I made a special effort to listen to her.
The moment she uttered a single syllable, I was fully ready and my eager ears picked up the words. "GOD DIED TODAY" was what she said. For a moment, I almost wanted to tell her, "It happened 2000 years ago, for crying out loud!" But then I reflected, if God truly did die even if it was 2000 years ago, wouldn't that deserve much more than the mere weeping of bitter tears?
Of course the story doesn't just end with the death of God. Christ rose again on Easter morning in triumph. As I write this, I realise I am doing precisely what ancient scribes used to do. We, Christians, always try to ensure that every talk of Good Friday does not end in despair. St Mark's Gospel originally ended in despair but scholars tell us that scribes added the subsequent verses to keep up the buoyant and positive spirits of early Christians. But the scribes went too far and added ridiculous verses about how Christians could drink poison and handle venomous snakes unharmed. To this day, there are cults that attempt to "live up to their faith in the word of God" and die because they take seriously the embellishments of these ancient scribes.
As I talk of our Lord's death and his subsequent victory over the tomb, my head keeps reminding me that it didn't happen the way it was recorded in the Holy Gospels. Quite apart from transmission problems and scribal corruptions, there is enough evidence to show us that the Gospels, to put it mildly, got it wrong and they contradict one another like crazy so at the very least, however pious one hopes to be, the 4 Gospels can't all be right. If they get it wrong in such an important, pivotal part of the faith such as the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, how reliable can they be in telling us other aspects of the faith?
In matters of faith, it's always useful to listen to one's heart and ignore one's head. My heart somehow repeats, in line with my head, the final word of our Lord before he died, the Seventh Word:
IT IS FINISHED.
As we observe the Passion and Death of our Lord and consider the finished work on the cross, let us remember the unfinished work that's left on earth - the poor, the sick and the oppressed.