“Good Friday” by Christina Rossetti
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
This is a poem for anyone who has ever sat on the edges of Christianity and wondered why people get so emotional about Good Friday and Jesus’ death.
“Am I a stone?” wonders the narrator. Is my heart so hard that I cannot empathise or understand the tears and weeping that accompanied the crucifixion? The speaker is able to look dispassionately at the blood that drips slowly from Christ’s nailed hands and feet as an onlooker but one with no emotional connection to what is occurring.
She then refers to those who did weep: the women who stayed and watched and wept at the foot of the cross; Peter, who we’re told after his denials of Jesus went out and wept bitterly; even the thief who died alongside him begged Jesus to take him to paradise with him.
The speaker goes on to increase the scale of the grief – it wasn’t just humans who were devastated at the death of Jesus but she refers to “the darkness which covered the face of the earth” as meaning that even the sun and the moon were devastated. Nature itself suffered alongside Jesus.
Rossetti then uses a mass of imagery and allusion her last verse. She asks Jesus not to give up on her, even though she feels this detachment from his death and sacrifice. She acknowledges that he is the true Shepherd and the only one who can gather the sheep, but then she shifts her analogy to Moses. When the people wandered in the wilderness after the exodus, they complained to Moses they were thirsty. Moses struck a rock and life giving water gushed out. The narrator is making the point that even though she appears to be hard hearted, cold, like stone – actually with the right touch she has so much to give and so much to feel. She asks Jesus to “turn and look once more” at her and she feels this will be all it will take to break down her barriers to faith.
My experience is that when people “get” the magnitude of the crucifixion – what Jesus’ death actually means and its implications – then tears are often the only response.