Stop All the Clocks
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking at a juicy bone
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message “He is dead”
— Funeral Blues, W H Auden —
It was nearly twenty-five years ago that the poem ‘Funeral Blues’ was used in a moving funeral scene from the film ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’. I was only six at the time! But the poem struck a chord with many people, perhaps because those first few lines describe so aptly how it feels when face with bereavement and death.
The poem always comes to mind for me on Good Friday. In the weeks leading up to Good Friday I will have endeavoured to somehow recommit myself to God and to being obedient to his call. This year in my parishes we’ve had Lent study groups, some of us have followed ‘Being Salt and Light‘, and we’ve followed the Easter story to help prepare us for Good Friday and Easter. No matter what preparation I’ve made, each year I’m startled by the events we remember on Good Friday. It’s like the overwhelming power of grief hits me all over again.
Since I’ve been ordained I’ve taken Good Friday services in a busy town centre and now in beautiful tourist villages. The juxtapositions between what is going on inside the church walls and then outside on the street is startling. Whilst I sit quietly facing the startling and shocking account of the death of Christ, for the people outside very little has changed. People are rushing to the shops to get food for a big family lunch on Sunday, teenagers are meeting their friends, young lovers are dashing off on romantic breaks for the long weekend, and lycra-clad middle aged men are enjoying a day off work with a long bike ride.
Life is going on as it always does for the vast majority of people around me. But I think about the poem. I want the world to stop, for crowds to gather, for noise and busyness to fall silent for just a moment and for people to realise that ‘He is dead’.
The liturgy of Good Friday is one of the most ancient of all of the Church’s ceremonies. It was a service that was characterised by its silence, many Good Friday services still are. It’s a time when Christians have the opportunity to sit in front of the cross and hear its message to us.
What is that message? I’m not totally sure I can sum it up, but I know St Paul is right when he wrote that: “the message of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the cross is where I learn what Jesus was really about. Jesus laid down his own life, that I might live.
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— Funeral Blues, W H Auden —
And so even though like in the lines of the poem I might want the world to stop, for silence to fall, and for the world to recognise and remember that Christ died, that he made a terrible sacrifice for their sake, for my sake, I’m not left with the feeling that nothing now can ever come to any good. By the end of Good Friday I’m left knowing and believing that through Jesus’ death, I have been made good.