29 March. Good Friday
Isa 52:13-53:12. The humiliations of the suffering servant, who carried the burden of the sins of his people. In his passion Jesus is crushed under the weight of wickedness, and through his wounds we are healed.
Heb 4:14ff. We have in Christ a great high priest who understands us fully. By his sufferings he accomplished our salvation.
Jn 18:1ff. With dignity and strength, Jesus walks along the royal road to Calvary. St John shows how everything happened to fulfill God’s saving plan for our redemption.
First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him-so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals, so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” (etc.)
It is Consummated
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.
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
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 to be faithful to the call of Good Friday.