Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – Hebrews 4:14ff – John 18:1ff
Passionist Good Friday Reflection 2011 (Ottaviano d’Egidio cp)
May the Passion of Jesus which we are re-living liturgically today, fill our hearts and minds with a deep sense of awe and sorrowful love: indeed the Paschal Mystery, as we know, lies at the very center of our baptismal calling and of our whole Christian vocation. As we celebrate the liturgy today, with the many facts we already know and are accustomed to, we may well discover new insights, even year after year.
Immersing ourselves in today’s feast, with Jesus ever at our side, may provide us with rich material for meditation and prayer and have an effect on our daily lives. We may recognize ourselves in the attitudes and responses of various men and women who form part of the Passion story of Jesus, with their weaknesses and reticence and in the obstinate opposition of the Sanhedrin; we may be aghast and bewildered at Judas’ desperate betrayal of Jesus and then sigh in harmony with Peter’s tears of bitter remorse and receive the forgiveness he begged for and was granted.
Perhaps we’ll be moved by Mary’s strong silence at the foot of the Cross, her maternal heart torn in two. We may experience a multitude of feelings and reflections, perhaps leading to a decision to change our lives, to cease to be the center of our own universe as we contemplate Jesus on the Cross. He showed no concern with preserving himself; rather, he placed others as the focus of his own interest and love.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you,” Jesus tells his disciples and he repeats it again to us at this Good Friday of 2011.So let’s take the plunge into the Passion of Jesus and attempt to re-live it in our own lives, in the choices and decisions we make every day, in our relationships one with another and our family lives. Perhaps we’ll want to allow his blood to wash over and purify us.
The Last Supper with the Eucharist, Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet and his declaration that one of them was to betray him, all form part of the path leading to his sweating of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man by virtue of his Incarnation, prays and beseeches his Father to spare him the chalice of suffering and martyrdom which he must undergo. He will be arrested and rejected by his own people. “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you,” will be their arrogant answer to Pilate, acting as witnesses to themselves, as if they were saying, “Our bringing him to you is in itself a guarantee of his guilt, for only we are just and correct.”
“I found him guilty of no capital crime” Pilate says to the crowd. Weak man that he is, even while convinced of his innocence he nevertheless has Jesus scourged. “I gave my back to those who beat me,” Isaiah had prophesied. Pilate will place him again before the crowd after the scourging, with a crown of thorns on his head. “Behold the man!” as if he wanted to say, hoping they’d show a little compassion, “What are you scared of? Look at what he has been reduced to!”
Thus was fulfilled what Isaiah had long ago prophesied, “You are my servant…Even as many were amazed at him, so marred was his look beyond that that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals…” This is a final attempt by Pilate to move the people to pity, but their cry resounds ever louder, “Away with him! Crucify him!” Finally Pilate bows to their wish, – for political reason only – and hands Jesus over to be crucified.
Jesus will go up to Mount Calvary bearing his cross on his shoulders as if he were bearing the sins of all of us: “He has taken on himself our sins,” he has carried us on his shoulders, a Samaritan and victim himself, healing the wounds of our souls with the ointment of his Blood. Once on Calvary he is relieved of the wood he is carrying and they crucify him; he is lifted up on the cross, between two criminals who have crucified with him. The message: he was just one more malefactor between another two.
Only one of the two criminals who were crucified with him will recognize him as the Son of God and a king: “Jesus, re-member me when you come into your kingdom.” Such faith went beyond the blood, beyond the nails, beyond the outrage. “He saved others… let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him!”
The repentant criminal has no need for Jesus to descend from the cross; he recognizes him hanging there like himself and dying. He will join his faith to that of Mary the mother of Jesus, to that of John and Mary Magdalene, to that of the Centurion who was moved to confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Jesus’ Passion isn’t just in the outpouring of his blood: the utter solitude and separation from his Father tears at him more than do the nails: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experiences and suffers this abandonment by his Father so that we might return, reunited as the People of God.
Finally it is over, he has fulfilled everything: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” and he breathes his last. There was darkness over the earth. Afterwards, as a grain of wheat which falls to the ground, they placed him in a tomb and closed it with a large stone.
In vain the guard and all the soldiers, for life and love will persevere, the grain of wheat which was dead will sprout. It is Easter! Christ has resurrected! Palm Sunday with the Hosannas to the son of David now leads us to the Resurrection with the angel’s announcement at the entrance to the tomb, “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said,” and “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”
It is Consummated (Patrick Rogers)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? … In the words of that haunting song, sometimes it does indeed cause me to tremble…. when I hear those words from the cross, “It is Consummated!” Consummated – completed – achieved to the last degree – engraved forever on the memory of mankind. “I have come to seek and to save what was lost…. The Son of Man came, not to be served but to serve.” His life was one long act of loving service, and now it ends on a rocky hill outside Jerusalem’s walls, with a final act of total self-surrender to the Father, on our behalf. Nothing like it was ever accomplished before, and its fruits go on forever.
The marvel is that, in another sense, this hour of his death remains powerfully alive in the hearts of all who trust in him – this point of total, utter contact between us and almighty God. The utterly self-giving, loving, loyal spirit of Jesus at the point of leaving this world is shared and handed on. This is seen most clearly in the fervour of the saints, in men like Francis of Assisi, who bore on his body the stigmata of Jesus, or Paul of the Cross, who found in Christ crucified a vast sea of divine love, or Charles of Mount Argus, devoted to serving all who were troubled and sick, to share with them the love of Christ, or Mother Teresa, whose heart was so imprinted by the love of Jesus that she inspired many others to serve him in the poorest of the poor.
It is Consummated – because by his cross, He draws us all into contemplation of the grace and mercy of God in our lives in so many circumstances. As Joseph Mary Plunkett put it in a poem written in 1916, I see His Blood Upon the Rose
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
He shows us a new way to look at our lives, to appreciate God’s presence with us every step of the way, to see in all of nature the signs of a loving providence that is taking care of us:
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice-and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
Above all, his arms are forever reaching out to save and bless those who turn to him, wherever we are on life’s journey. Young or old, married or single, rich or poor, woman or man, Irish, Polish, Chinese or South African – all of us are there beneath his saving cross, and for us a stream of blessing flows out, to lead us to eternal life.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
Thank you, Lord! Thank you for your cross and Passion. It is indeed consummated. All has been done, that we can come to you in eternal life.
It Is Finished (Ezeogu Munachi)
In the passion story according to John which we have just heard, the last words that Jesus said on the cross before he bowed his head and gave up the spirit is “It is finished” (John 19:30). Three words in English but in the original Greek it is just one word, tetelestai. What does telestai “it is finished” mean?
Scholars got more insight into the meaning of this expression a few years ago after some archaeologists dug up in the Holy Land a tax collector’s office that was almost intact, with all the tax records and everything. There were two stacks of tax records and one of them had the word, tetelestai, on the top. In other words, “paid in full.” These people don’t owe anything anymore. So, when Jesus said “It is finished,” what is finished? It is the debt we owe God by our sins. It has been paid in full?
The Jews of Jesus’ time saw sin as a debt that we owe God, a debt that must somehow be repaid. Jesus used that kind of language and often spoke of sin as debt and forgiveness as a cancellation of debt. He told the parable of the unforgiving servant whom his master forgave the debt that he had no way of repaying but who went out and insisted on getting back the small debt that his fellow servant owed him. This was a way of teaching us that when we are forgiven by God we must in turn forgive our neighbour. He taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us” which simply means “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus clearly used the language of commerce to speak of the spiritual relationship between God and us and between us and our neighbour. So on the cross he says “tetelestai” “It is paid in full.” Our sins have been completely forgiven. It is finished.
So, how do we respond to this last testament of Jesus? Remember, it is not a promise, “Your sins will be forgiven,” and it is not a conditional statement, “Your sins are forgiven if – ” How do we respond to it? What do we do? All you have to do is to say “Amen. So be it.” All you have to do is to believe that these words apply to you personally, no matter the gravity of the sin that you have been involved in. Your debt has been paid to the full and cancelled no matter how huge the amount you owe. All you have to do is to say “Thank you, Jesus” and learn to be grateful to Jesus all your life. That is why we go to church every Sunday. We go to church to perform the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving.” That is why we try to be loving and kind to others. If Jesus has been so loving and kind to me in such a big way, why can’t I try to be loving and kind to others in the little things of everyday life. That is why we try to avoid sin. If Jesus has paid all the debt that I owe to God, I must see to it that I do not go about accumulating more debt.
As we look up to the cross today and contemplate Jesus dying to make the full payment for our sins, let us thank him, and let us promise him that our whole lives will be one unbroken song of thanksgiving to him who gave his life to make full payment for the immeasurable debt we owe to God.
Why Jesus Took the Cross (Martin Hogan)
Many people find it easier to identify with the message of Good Friday that with the message of Easter Sunday. Perhaps that is because we are all familiar with the way of the cross in some shape or form, whereas the resurrection remains to a great extent a future hope. Yet, were it not for Easter Sunday, the Friday on which Jesus died would not have come to be known as Good Friday. It is Easter that reveals the deeper meaning of the horrors of Golgotha. It is the light of Easter Sunday that makes sense of the darkness of Calvary. More that any of the other evangelists, St John has allowed the light of Easter to shine upon the events of Jesus’ passion and death. We have just heard his telling of the story of those events.
The last words of Jesus in John’s account are, “I am thirsty,” and “It is accomplished.” The evangelist was aware that Jesus’ words, “I am thirsty” expressed more that just the physical thirst of a dying man. When a thirsty Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well, he said to her, “Give me a drink.” Yet, Jesus’ physical thirst for water on that occasion revealed a deeper thirst, and that was his thirst, his desire, to offer this woman, and her people, living water, the living water of the Spirit, the living water of God’s love. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that this living water of the Spirit would become in her a bubbling spring that would well up to eternal life and that would enable her to worship in Spirit and in truth.
Jesus’ cry from the cross, “I thirst,” also expresses this deeper thirst in his life to pour out the living water God’s life, of God’s love, on all who look upon him with the eyes of faith. For the fourth evangelist, this is the meaning of the flow of blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus after he was pierced. The life-giving water of the Spirit of God’s love pours out from Jesus upon all who gather at the foot of the cross in faith, upon the mother of Jesus, the beloved disciple, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, upon all of us who approach the crucified and risen Lord with open hearts. Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus had issued an invitation to one and all, an invitation he continues to issue to all of us gathered here on this Good Friday, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”” We gather here this afternoon to drink again from those rivers of living water that flow from the heart of Jesus. We gather, conscious of that deep thirst in our own lives for a love that accepts us as we are, that forgives all that needs forgiving in us, that recreates and renews us, that empowers us to live as God meant us to live, to worship as God wants us to worship, a worship of life.
Our second reading this afternoon calls on us to be confident in approaching the throne of grace. In John’s gospel the cross of Jesus becomes a throne of grace. Jesus is lifted up in all his royal splendour, and from the throne of the cross he pours out upon all God’s scattered children the abundant waters of God’s grace and love. As we approach to venerate the cross in a few moments, we remind ourselves that we are approaching the throne of God’s grace, and, in doing so, we are assured, in the words of that second reading, that we “shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”
Having approached the throne of grace, and having drunk deeply from the wells of salvation, we are called to become beloved disciples. That is the call of Good Friday. Like the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross, we are invited to look to Mary as our mother, to Jesus as our brother, and to God as our Father. Like that beloved disciple, we are called to open our hearts to the love of Jesus and to love Jesus and one another as he has loved us. Like him, we are called to recognize the Lord’s presence on the shore of our lives. Like him, we are sent forth to testify, to witness to the Lord before others. We pray for a few moments in silence that we would be receptive to the grace and faithful to the call of Good Friday.