GOOD FRIDAY 2012
Today we celebrate one of the most solemn liturgies of the year. It is a day of starkness and silence. Good Friday has a mood of silence about it. We begin our service in silence, prostrating before the altar; letting the silence speak.
It is a dark day of sorrow. It is, moreover, the only day of the year when we do not celebrate the Eucharist. We are meant to contemplate how life would be if we fail to find and live in communion with our creator. Christ is showing us what sin does to us, in the hope that we will surrender ourselves to him anew today.
In the first reading we hear of the silence with which the suffering servant underwent torment and affliction. “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.” “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”
We see Jesus standing before Pilate in silence.
And on this day we come in all humility to venerate the Cross of Christ. To pay him homage and to express the deepest gratitude for His complete fidelity to love. It is indeed the saddest, the quietest, and the most solemn day in the liturgical year.
Each year on Good Friday the Passion of Jesus Christ according to John is read. The bulk of John's account focuses on Jesus' trial and the eventual judgment that he be put to death. But it is ingeniously written. John writes up the trial of Jesus in such a way that, while Jesus is the one being tried, everyone else is on trial except Jesus. Pilate is on trial, the Jewish authorities are on trial, Jesus apostles and disciples are on trial, the crowds watching are on trial, and we who are hearing the story today are on trial. Jesus, alone, is not on trial, even as his trial is judging everyone else. Hence when Pilate asks Jesus: What is truth? Jesus' silence causes Pilate to look within himself for the truth about Jesus’ innocence and his own vulnerability. It's the same for the rest of us.
Next, John emphasizes Jesus' divinity in his passion account. The whole of John's Gospel emphasizes Jesus' pre-existence with God and his divinity rather than his humanity. This shines through in his narrative: The Jesus being crucified in John's Gospel is always in control. He is unafraid, shows no weaknesses, carries his own cross, dies in serenity, and is buried like a king with a staggering amount of myrrh and aloes. John's Jesus does not need any Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross, nor does he cry out in agony and abandonment. John writes up the Passion of Christ from the point of view of Jesus' divinity. This emphasizes all the more the day when mankind did its worst, stooped to its lowest point by putting to death the Son of God.
Judas and the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus carrying "lanterns and torches". Jesus is the light of the world yet they prefer darkness to light. They know that what they are doing can only be done at night because it would be shamefully exposed in the full light of day. Later when John writes his first letter he states, “The one who continues in the light is the one who loves his brother.. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness. He walks in shadows, not knowing where he is going, since the dark has blinded his eyes.” The powers that oppose God need the cover of darkness.
At the end of the trial, Pilate brings Jesus out to the crowd and asks them whether or not they want to accept him as their king. They respond by saying: "We have no king, but Caesar!" We too must respond! Every time we do not recognize the power of God in the one who is being crucified we are renouncing our only hope of salvation and admitting that the powers of this world are, for us, the deepest reality.
Further, John's passion narrative emphasizes that Jesus was sentenced to death precisely at , the very hour on the eve of Passover when the temple priests would begin to slaughter the paschal lambs. The inference is clear: Jesus is the real lamb who dies for sin.
Pope Leo the Great notes that “It was not in the temple, whose cult was now at an end, that Christ, as the new and authentic sacrifice of reconciliation, offered himself to the Father; nor was it within the walls of the city doomed to destruction for its crimes.
It was beyond the city gates, outside the camp, that he was crucified, in order that when the ancient sacrificial dispensation came to an end a new victim might be laid on a new altar, and the cross of Christ become the altar not of the temple, but of the world.”
John the Baptist had proclaimed Jesus as the true Paschal Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin. Every mass we proclaim, “Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb.” Christ dies at the very time when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.
But we cannot preach the crucifixion as a cruel sacrifice of suffering and pain, of blows and spitting, of whips and lances. Suffering, pain and death do not please God the Father. What then is the sacrifice that pleases God?
The early church saw the Cross in the light of Jesus’ whole ministry. It found in our first reading from Isaiah today, an almost perfect prophecy of the Passion and used it as a reflection for its own theological statements about the Passion. Hebrews, our second reading speaks of the priesthood of Christ, “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.. His high priesthood is characterized in three ways: sympathy for human weakness as the result of his own earthly experiences; the answer to his prayer for deliverance; and his learning of obedience.
The real sacrifice that God demands of human creatures, is the perfect offering of themselves in obedience to the call to love. Christ remained faithful to love in spite of the rejection, betrayal, the cruelty. That is what pleased the Father.
We are able in him to offer ourselves, our souls, and our bodies in union with his sacrifice, so that the imperfection of our sacrifice is transformed by the perfection of his sacrifice.
It is precisely in his crucifixion that Christ is glorified because “no greater love has anyone than he lay down his life for his friend.” And with his last breath Christ taught us how to live. “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.”