Giovanni Bellini, 'Deposition' (detail), c. 1515, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“Silence filled with His presence”

This year, the traditional Good Friday gestures in London and Edinburgh could not go ahead in their usual format due to Covid restrictions. Then came the proposal to put together a video with meditations led by our bishop friends.

For many years, we have been organising a Way of the Cross on Good Fridays in the heart of London and Edinburgh. This year, when it became clear that it was not possible to propose the gesture according to the usual format, we met with some friends to discuss alternative options. One of us suggested to start from our friendship with some of the bishops in the country, which has flourished as an unexpected gift in the past years. Starting from this proposal, we asked our bishop friends if they might be willing to lead the meditations of the five stations of the Way of the Cross; they all accepted and promptly shared videos with us.

Thanks to those who selected readings from the Holy Week booklet and conveyed their passion for art and music, we put together a video featuring readings from the Gospels, some recordings of music, along with three songs beautifully performed by the UK CL choir. These were accompanied by powerful images of masterpieces featuring the Passion of Christ, alongside the meditations presented by the bishops. Each of them shared with us a provocation on how to live and look at Christ’s passion in light of the Resurrection. Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark reminded us of Christ silent upon the cross - not a weak silence but a powerful silence - and invited us to look for silence filled with His Presence in our life; Bishop John Keenan of Paisley spoke of how we can risk by following Him once we experience His forgiveness and love for us; Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth invited us to look at Good Friday as one of the greatest signs of God’s love for us, saying that "On His way to Calvary, Jesus carried all our crosses for us". In the last meditation, Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth shared his own experience of a sick mother and brother with us, and how Christ’s words upon the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", carnally became his, not as desperation but prayer.

The whole community was connected on Zoom and many of us invited friends and fellow parishioners. The event filled us all with gratitude and marvel. We felt moved by the paternity of the bishops, by the esteem they have shown for our presence in their dioceses and the personal friendships they have not hidden, sharing the whole of themselves, down to their own personal crosses, and not limiting their contributions to formal preaching. We felt like a people, similar to the people of God described by the School of Community; a people moved and grateful for having lived this event together.

One of us who had helped create the video wrote to me: “I have been incredibly moved by the Good Friday gesture that we shared as a community in the UK. Not only the day itself, which turned out to be, somehow surprisingly given the online format, a moment filled by the Presence of the Mystery. But for me, and some of my friends, the Good Friday gesture began a month earlier, when we were asked to help prepare it. Some people were in charge of the choir, others had to deal with technical challenges. I was asked to suggest images to accompany the music for each of the five stations. Nothing major, not even from a technical point of view. And yet it required me to carve out time at the end of each day to listen to the music, to read the words, and to search for what would have helped me to really be ‘there’ while we listened to the words of Sicut Cervus, or Tenebrae Factae Sunt. This somehow ‘forced’ me to be in front of Jesus’ Passion in advance, to follow His stations ahead of time. Alone in my kitchen and in front of my computer, scrolling through images of the Passion of Christ, became a way for me to feel embraced by the Mystery at the end of each day. Each of my daily struggles, whether big or small, were suddenly ‘linked’ to His crying face, and to that of the suffering Mary. Without expecting to, I began to offer Him my wounded heart. When Good Friday came, I was more prepared than ever, more eager to see Him on His cross and certain of His Resurrection. This left me with an even greater desire to see my friends in the flesh, to keep walking amongst these people who allow me, so mysteriously, to be with Christ.”

Another friend wrote: “The whole of Holy Week has been permeated by an awaiting, a prayer and silence filled with His presence. It was a constant aid to help me centre myself again upon His presence – amid anxiety at work, things to do in my family, little daily chores.” What our friends wrote mysteriously happened in me; a Beauty seized me and changed my heart.

Giacomo, Cambridge, United Kingdom