Read the thoughts of Club Chaplain, Paul Johnson on the 'second strangest Good Friday on record'....
How are we all doing? It surely can’t only be me that’s finding these days very strange! When I wrote my last article, around three weeks ago, I don’t think that any of us fully understood what it was going to feel like to be living in a lockdown situation. My wife and I lead the young adults’ group in our church, and we were saying to them last week that this experience is something that they will tell their grandchildren about. It is a shared memory that is akin to those of the war. My mother in law said something which really stood out to me. She said, “We know that the war was bad and that we don’t live in fear that a bomb will fall out of the sky when you go to the supermarket, but during the war people were able to come together and spend time together to support one another – this is different.”
When I spoke to you previously, I talked about the community work, which was already going on. I have been blown away by the way that people have played their part in supporting family, friends and neighbours and I hope that, when all of this is over, something of that community spirit will continue to thrive. What I am feeling is that it’s the little things, which we all took for granted so much, which are the things I miss the most. My mother in law’s comment is a powerful one – the thing that most people are craving is the simple person to person contact, which many of us would usually experience on a daily basis. I am grateful for the technology which has proved to be so very useful in these days. I am finding myself in Zoom calls most days and, in many ways (although virtually), I’m spending more time with some people that I usually would.
I have no doubt that many of us will find it most bizarre to have a Good Friday without Saints playing against Wigan. It is such a staple of every season that, like many things, we just take it for granted that it will take place. I have no doubt that our Media Manager, Jamie, will arrange for some classic games to be on Saints TV and I, for one, will be watching some of those, but it’s just not the same is it?! Good Friday and the whole Easter weekend will feel very strange this year. Many of my friends noticed that we didn’t have a match on Easter Monday and were wondering what they would do without that fixture – well, we didn’t see this coming did we?!
The thing is, as strange as this Good Friday will feel, it won’t be as strange as that first one that took place just under two thousand years ago! The Passover Festival was taking place and Jerusalem was absolutely packed out. It was common practice for the Romans to release a prisoner from the death penalty. Just a week earlier, Jerusalem had another crowd cheering – this time they were welcoming Jesus into the city as he rode in on a donkey. Palm leaves were being waved and the sense of celebration was tangible. This was the same vibe as a homecoming, when a team brings the trophy back into town. Jesus was the hero and he was being greeted. Fast forward a week and this time the crowd are asked a different question. Pilate asks, “Who do you want me to release; Jesus or Barabbas?” Both men had been sentenced to death. Jesus’ charge was blasphemy. Barabbas was a murderer. A simple choice, you would think. The crowd shout to free Barabbas. He is released and Jesus goes on to be crucified. What was that all about? Why did that decision get made and what happened as a result?
The story tells me about the incredible power of peer pressure and crowd mentality. Religious hatred had been whipped up and the crowd went along with it. No doubt, there would be some in that crowd who didn’t agree with the decision, but their voices were not heard. It reminds me of the danger that exists today, for negativity to become a powerful weapon that can cause great harm. However, I’m sure that many of us have heard it said, especially in school assemblies around this time of year that Jesus died for us. Have you ever thought that Barabbas was the first person who could literally say that? As he stood and watched the events of the day playing out, he could literally say that Jesus was dying in his place. It is the ultimate scene of self-denial and sacrifice. Christians believe that the story of the Cross is not a story of failure, but rather is a story of incredible victory. They believe that, when coupled with the Easter Sunday story of Jesus’ resurrection, it is a tale of every last enemy – even death itself being defeated. It is an invitation to see the value that God puts on your life – enough value to actually die for you, but then to rise again to show that nothing can cut you off from being loved, not even death.
As we continue to travel together, through this journey of Covid-19 and being locked down, however long this may run for, I encourage each of us to truly value those whom we love. I encourage each of us to make time to maintain good contact and to do our part in putting others first, to serve our family, friends and neighbours in whichever ways we safely can. Let’s take every opportunity to show our gratitude to our NHS and all Key-Workers who are serving us so very well. In the middle of it all, remember that you are loved and your life has incredible value and that the first, most bizarre of all Good Fridays, shows that.
These days will pass. Normality (and Rugby league) will return. Let’s not forget the lessons that we are learning as we go through this very strange adventure together.
Happy Easter. Chappers.