Good Friday 2011 Devotional Address

Here is what I had to say this afternoon during the three hours. It was the sixth of six devotional addresses all given by clergy from St Mary's.

You can catch up with them all on the St Mary's website by clicking here.

In the name of God the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A couple of weeks ago I took a brief holiday in London. It was a sly, sleekit weekend break to enable me to recharge my batteries before Holy Week. And it worked. I came back refreshed and ready to go.

But I spotted something in London that is my starting point for this final sermon this afternoon.

I had gone up to Camden in north London. It was a hot day and it was lovely to sit by the canal and watch the boats go by. But when I tired of that, I set off a wandering through Camden Market before going back into town.

There were people pressing in on every side. A great mass of humanity. People out to enjoy themselves. Shopping. Selling. Sightseeing.

Its a lively tourist market full of tens of thousands of people, lots of them young. It feels like a microcosm of the world. People of every culture packed cheek by jowl, each looking for their own bargain.

Its hot. Its colourful. There is a faint smell of incense from countless joss stick stalls. People are pressed in on every side.

And suddenly something caught my eye on one of the stalls.

It was a bowl – an old battered fruit bowl, I think. And in the bowl were religious figures. There were Hindu deities – I recognised Ganesh the elephant God and Shiva who is depicted as a fine young man meditating. Then there were various forms of the Buddha. There was Buddha sitting in the lotus position, a happy Buddha laughing and a gloriously fat Buddha looking content and replete. And yes, when I looked, there was Jesus. A crucifix amongst these holy figurines. The figure of Jesus on a cross, the object of our meditations this afternoon. There. Alone. Dropped into a bowl on a stall in Camden Market.

And the thing that struck me most was the sign next to the bowl.

We’ve heard this afternoon of a sign placed above Jesus’s head on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.

Next to the bowl of deities in Camden was a sign which read – “Gods – 3 for £5”.

In the middle of the market melee, it felt as though something had hit me hard. Everyone was walking past the bowl, the stall and me without taking any notice.

Into my mind came the line, “Is it nothing to you all you who pass by?”

Gods – three for five pounds.

I realised that something in that place was dead. Though I’ve no doubt that God was alive in each person who walked by, though I have an absolute conviction that God is present in every culture represented in that market, though I know that God is alive and active and loving in every place and time forever, just for that moment, it felt as though something was dead.

Gods – three for five pounds on a market stall.

It put me in mind of a famous quote from George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community. He once said in one of his books:

I simply argue that the Cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves…at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where we should be and what we should be about.

There is something about that which is fundamentally true. Jesus died in the marketplace with people of all nations and all kinds of beliefs around him. Jesus died on a cross amongst people who were real, not precious pious people.

But if Gods cost so little – three for five pounds. How will you choose which to take home with you?

There are things to be learned from all traditions. Things to be learned from our Hindu friends about experiencing the divine in the everyday. Things from our Muslim neighbours about the reality of community prayer and putting a sense of justice at the heart of faith. Things to be learned from our friends in the Sikh Gurdwara about hospitality. How striking it was at Christmas when previously unmet Sikhs came to midnight mass and it occurred to them that they would be anything other than welcome at the communion table – for to be religious for them is to feed others.

And I never get through Good Friday without reflecting on the Buddha saying that life is suffering. Its a fundamental truth that we in Christianity have much to reflect on when we get going with our petty questions about why bad things happen to good people. Its just life. Life is suffering. Suffering and hardship and pain.

And glory too, but we’ll get to that on Sunday, if he rises.

But let us leave that for then. And leave the other Gods be for now too. Let us fix our attention on a figure on a cross.

Our God.

Our Jesus.

Our Dying Lord.

In coming at Christmas he identified with us utterly. In living with disciples then and now he identifies with us utterly. In dying a painful and awful and horrible death he identified with us utterly.

That utter identification is what today is always about for me.

God came into our world and walked its dusty streets for a while and became like us. Suffered like us. Died like us.

Such is our God.

Out of that bowl of figures, I take Jesus on the cross and I look at him again. Out of the marketplace of values and cultures and peoples, I fix my eyes on him again. Out of the wonderful, glorious melting pot of this diverse and vibrant world I see him again. A figure on a cross.

And I think of that sign – “Gods – 3 for £5.

And I ask myself. How much was the cost for him?

How much does it cost me to following him wherever he leads?



  1. agatha says

    Did you think you should have bought it? Or left it as a lesson to others? Me, I would have bought it, thinking I was saving Jesus from more humiliation, but thats probably rubbish theology.

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