Black Friday Goodness
I daresay you noticed that next Friday will be what has now become known as Black Friday. You may know that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving Day, which in the United States is the fourth Thursday of November. It is a public holiday commemorating the first harvest celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers who had settled in America in 1621. Thus Thanksgiving Day has overtones of Harvest Festival, of generosity, of National Day and of public holiday, alongside what was overtly a religious festival giving thanks to God for the bounty bestowed to relieve want and famine. The traditional fayre, of turkey, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, are akin to the traditional Christmas Dinner, with added marshmallows and perhaps pumpkin or cherry pie for dessert. When I worked at St Paul’s Cathedral it was my pleasure and privilege to be responsible for the US Thanksgiving Day Service which is held for the American Community in London each year. By custom the American Ambassador attends and the US President’s annual speech is delivered from the pulpit of St Paul’s (as well as a sermon). It is a great festival, and, for me at the time a very cheap way of going to America for the day!
Black Friday follows and is a far less spiritual festival. Called ‘Black’ because it is a day on which shopkeepers and retailers expect to move their profits into the black, it may therefore have slight overtones of the original Pilgrim Fathers celebrating the end of famine. There is little financial famine to associate with Black Friday (except perhaps if we consider those for whom it is simply an inaccessible spendfest of self-indulgence and extravagance when rich people spend lots of money and get bargains when buying things that other members of the population can only dream of owning). Black Friday is the day when the ‘run up to Christmas’ truly begins, with kickstarter bargains for the season which effectively runs for a bit longer than Advent. Black Friday is the day when the ‘Ready, steady, Christmas!’ of the Seasonal Traffic lights, turns green. All systems are go for Christmas after Black Friday. While Advent is about self-denial, the Christmas shopping season that begins on Black Friday is likely about the opposite, even if the spending is on others. The ‘Black’ of Friday is not a negative denotation, but is rather positive, financially positive, as in being in the black’, rather than ‘in the red’. Black Friday is about splashing out on bargains, getting a good deal, paying as low a price as possible. The spiritual irony of this is very clear when we think of that other black Friday, which, also somewhat ironically, we call Good Friday. As Sydney Carter put it in his famous song, itself using an American Shaker Tune as its melody:
“I danced on a Friday
when the sky turned black;
it's hard to dance
with the devil on your back”.
Although the denomination of Christians known as ‘Shakers’ can be dated to eighteenth century Manchester, they have become almost exclusively associated with New England in the USA. In 1774, Mother Ann Lee, the leader of what was then a nine-person group, moved everyone to New York. The Community focused their spiritual lives on attaining holiness, which they felt was partly achieved by a spiritual process of ridding the body of sin by way of convulsions, which earned them the name ‘shaking quakers’. For them the shaking engendered purification by the Holy Spirit.
I digress – Good Friday is the original Black Friday, and so it is ironic that our reading today, chosen by the church to focus our minds on Christ the King, is about Jesus’ crucifixion, not on Black Friday, but Good Friday. As we approach Black Friday, we focus on Jesus, the Eternal King, crucified in humility for the salvation of the world. On Good Friday.
Black Friday, you may know, is followed by Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, or perhaps more aptly described as the Monday after Black Friday, and it is the online version of it. On Black Friday folk go shopping. On Cyber Monday they are back at work or still lying around at home, and do even more bargain shopping on their tablets, phones and laptops. It is likely a religious festival (perhaps it is a religious festival in praise of Mammon!).
It begins on a Thursday and lasts all weekend extending to the Monday. Like Christmas or Easter, which also begins on a Thursday and lasts for several holy days. Yet the post-Thanksgiving long shopping weekend, is pure holiday in the post-Christian sense of the word: holy day becomes holiday, and it is not about God, but about money. And we know we cannot serve both.
But I suppose we should be pleased that the Black Friday through to Cyber Monday period has not displaced any particularly holiday, but simply arrived on the scene as a secular festival of Mammon. Unlike Halloween, which has mocked and ruined the solemnities of All Saints’ and All Souls’. Or we might remember that the festival of Christ the King, which we celebrate today, and which, to be fair, was only invented in 1917 as the final Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, has been displaced by the Black Weekend. And when we say ‘black’ we mean something that is intended to be interpreted as something positive. In the topsy-turvey world in which we now live, we might recall how what might be thought of as a bad day in history is called good: Good Friday, that is. In Christ, God often reverses things or turns them upside down.
Good Friday was Black Friday, the day when the cross of Christ ran red with his blood spilled for humanity. Black Friday was the good day on which the commodity of salvation was at its most expensive, it was not discounted as cheap grace, knocked down for sins at a bargain price. Christ’s Kingly sacrifice on the Cross was costly and deadly, and the debt he paid was to die for. But the present he bought with his red blood on that black Friday was all for good – for good as in, for ever. And ever. And ever.
If you intend to benefit from Black Friday, or perhaps plan to shop online for more deals on Cyber Monday, remember that other Black Friday all those years ago when Christ was mocked by soldiers who took his clothing for profit, whipped, mocked and crucified him and bought us all a bargain that cannot be repaid by any human being. The same Jesus who, we pray, will remember us when we come into his Kingdom, and who certainly does remember us here and now.
To him be all honour, majesty and worship, now and always. Amen.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/11/19