Self-sacrifice that echoed the Good Friday ordeal of Jesus
PUBLISHED: 10:30 30 March 2018
Professor Catherine Waddams reflects on the courage of French policeman Arnaud Beltrame and how it echoes the theme of self-sacrifice in the events of Good Friday.
Last Friday, Arnaud Beltrame, a policeman on duty near Carcassonne, volunteered to take the place of a hostage in the French supermarket siege. He both enabled her to escape, and his colleagues to follow what was happening by leaving his mobile phone on. He must have known that he had very little chance of survival, and he died from the wounds he received in the subsequent shoot-out.
His sacrifice saved the lives both of the hostage who was released and others who would have died without the information from his phone. His actions are particularly poignant just before Easter and today, which we call Good Friday.
As a child I always thought Good was an odd name for a day when Christians remember the barbaric execution by crucifixion (essentially asphyxiation) of Jesus. He was publicly humiliated, as well as tortured and utterly desolate, feeling abandoned by everyone as he screamed from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The German name for today, translated as Mourning Friday, seems more appropriate. The French, Italian and Spanish refer to it as Holy Friday – reflecting the word for this time of year, Holy Week, that we use in England too. And the Danes call it ‘Long Friday’, which it must have seemed at the time, and which reflected the tedium of a day when traditionally there were no businesses, shops or entertainment available, including sporting fixtures. But why call it Good Friday?
One of the difficulties Jesus himself faced was that he knew only too well what was coming. Speaking of his death shortly before the events of his last meal with his followers, his betrayal by one of them, and his trial, he talked about what happens to a seed – how it has to fall into the ground, apparently dead and lifeless, before it can sprout. Without this fallow period, the new plant cannot grow. We can see this new growth all around us as Spring accelerates after a late start following this year’s unusually cold and snowy March weather.
Jesus’ death demonstrates God’s unending love for us, and enables our own love for him, and for other people, to grow and thrive. Out of seeming inexplicable tragedy and grief can come good, just as Arnaud Beltrame’s heroic sacrifice saved others’ lives and provides inspiration for us all. Perhaps the language which captures this best is Kiswahili – which calls today Ijumaa Kuu – Great Friday.
Catherine Waddams is a Professor at UEA and a Church of England Licensed Reader at St George’s Church, Colegate