Recently I hosted a family get-together honoring the British holiday Guy Fawkes Day, otherwise known as Bonfire Night. My family and I had the privilege of living in England for quite some time when my children were small, and we have fond memories of bonfires, fireworks, warm treats, and good company on this night. It’s been a few years since we’ve moved back home to America, but this year we decided to honor this strange but fascinating holiday, even if we were on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
I say ‘strange’ with a loving undertone, mostly because, unlike most holidays that people celebrate around the world, this particular holiday is meant to celebrate something that didn’t happen. It’s not for remembrance of independence, or gratitude for a certain person or people. It’s not for a great victory or celebration. Instead, it’s to remember a failure.
If you aren’t familiar with the holiday, the gist is that back in 1605, a man named Robert Catesby and his co-conspirator Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the British Parliament (and by doing so, kill King James I in the process). The plan was to hide barrels of gunpowder in the basement of Parliament, and then blow them up when the king was in the building. Fawkes was caught a few hours before the plan was hatched, thus saving the king and the Parliament building that still stands today. The catalyst was religious freedom for Catholics in what was then a Protestant country.
There is even a children’s rhyme that perhaps some of you know thanks to the movie V for Vendetta, which used its phrasing as part of its memorable dialogue:
Remember, Remember the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
The celebrations that happen on this day often include fireworks and huge bonfires that often have effigies of Guy Fawkes himself burning in the midst of it. Like I said, this holiday is … unique.
As I was making my chili and clearing my yard to make way for the bonfire, I began to think about another holiday that, similarly, is a celebration of a seemingly failed attempt to overthrow a government. I’m talking about Good Friday. To those living during the death of Jesus, it would have been anything but “good” – let alone something to celebrate. The promised king had died. And he died the gruesome death of a criminal no less. The man who they thought would free them from the bondage of Rome now lay mangled and lifeless in a tomb that wasn’t even his, hidden by a stone, as immovable as their own metaphorical chains. Fear would have been rampant, buoyed by unending despair. Where there once was hope, now lay death and emptiness. By any definition of the word, it had been a failure.
What they didn’t know was that the earth was about to loosen its grip on the God of the universe, the resurrected, perfected, and victorious God-Man Jesus Christ. What seemed to be a heart-wrenching failure was the unstoppable and emphatic final overthrow of death itself, brought on by the very death that sin tried to devour. Three days later, the stone gave way to the living Rock, who walked out of the grave and into our hearts, where he will stay until we are bodily united with him in life eternal.
As I sat by our bonfire that night, I let these thoughts flicker in and out of my mind as I watched my family enjoy each other’s company. Thank God for the failure of Black Friday, for the scandal of the effigy of the Son of God himself amid the fires of judgment in our place, for without it, without Him, we would not have seen the sunrise on the victory of Easter morning. And so, I can let another rhyme bounce along in my thoughts as I refill my cup and laugh at my kids’ antics:
Remember, remember, the last great Passover,
Where true Life was hid by a stone.
Three days he did slumber,
Then out he did thunder,
Breaking our chains and our yoke!