GOOD FRIDAY 2013
“ ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” But what do the sheep gain from the death of their shepherd? We can see from Christ's own death that it leaves the beloved flock a prey to wild beasts. But it is by dying that your shepherd proves his love for you.” Peter Chrysologus
Every miracle, every sermon, every word of forgiveness or challenge—none of them makes sense apart from the cross. Today, we are invited to join millions of people all over the world in gazing upon the Christ who remained faithful in the face of all evil.
So let’s follow Pilate’s words and “behold the man”. Today we come to reverence the crucifix. Come and behold the Christ in his humanity. See him in his humility, trust, and surrender to his Father as he walked with God each and every day. Behold the One who prayed, “Into your hands I commend my spirit”. See how this prayer, which he breathed with his dying breath, was but the full expression of a lifetime of faithful love.
It is important that we see the cross, not as the mechanical fulfillment of a preconceived dogmatic scheme. We use words like “He paid the price for our sins.” ; “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to suffer for our sake.” We must not see the death of Jesus as some payment to cancel a debt to the Father caused by our sin. Rather his death on the cross is the culmination of the intensely personal mission of Jesus as a whole. Christ would not betray the Father. He continued to be faithful to the Father despite the cost. He continued to preach a message of non-violence and total forgiveness although he could see the forces of opposition mounting against him.
It’s important to note something the four evangelists have in common: There’s almost no mention of Jesus’ physical suffering. Though we have traditionally been encouraged in the stations of the cross and in private devotions to concentrate on the painful bodily aspects of his passion and death, our sacred authors present us with a different picture. Each describes Jesus’ actual crucifixion using the fewest words possible, simply stating, “They crucified him.”
The evangelists certainly zero in on Jesus’ suffering, but for them it’s much more psychological than physical. They do this for a good reason. Their purpose in writing these narratives isn’t to lead their readers to proclaim, “Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me!” “Thank you for suffering so much for me.” They’re much more interested in having them simply say, “Thank you, Jesus, for showing me how to die!”
We are called to imitate his psychological suffering: the pain and death that accompanies the daily giving of oneself for others. The Gospel authors constantly point out the mental stress and pain Jesus endures during his passion and death. His disciples constantly misunderstand him, they desert him, one even swears he’s never even met him. Nothing can stop Jesus from demonstrating his love for others, even if those others reject it. That’s the kind of suffering and death all of us can imitate.
Betrayal is the ultimate form of infidelity. We are never betrayed by an enemy. We don’t expect a bond of trust with an enemy. We are betrayed by friends and those we love.
The betrayal by Judas has been etched on the mind of all Christian History. We are not telling, only the story of disciples who did not have sufficient courage to keep going. The story of Judas and Peter in their betrayal is also our story. We clearly see that evil can enter our lives. Each of us is capable of making decisions to discard the most precious gifts of our lives. “Someone will betray me.” We ask the question “Is it I, Lord?” because we know in truth it could very easily be. Even in asking, we pray that it is not.
Lord Jesus, we need to know in our heads the cost of discipleship. Let us not use our minds to calculate for our own gain and save ourselves, but open us to the truth. Attach our hearts to you Lord so that we may be willing to follow you and not fear as you ask us to take up our cross and follow you. And especially Lord when we are betrayed and in pain may we have the grace to stop the circle of evil. May we like you, be able to consume the pain and not be consumed by it. May we say “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He does not say “Make a cross” or “Look for a cross.” Each of us has a cross to carry. The cross we have is hard enough for us! Are we willing to accept it?
Perhaps depression, conflict in our family, abuse, violence, addiction, loneliness, cancer … We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. Or we can accept the things I cannot change and follow Christ.
- "Sorrow," an author has penned, "can lead us into one of four lands. The barren land in which we try to escape from it. The broken land in which we sink under it. The bitter land in which we resent it. Or the better land in which we bear it and become a blessing to others."
The real sacrifice that God demands of human creatures is the perfect offering of themselves in obedience to the law of love. Through Christ, God does for us what we cannot do, namely, offer the perfect sacrifice. We are caught up into Christ’s self-sacrifice and are enabled in him to offer ourselves in union with his sacrifice, so that the imperfection of our sacrifice is transformed by the perfection of his fidelity.
Today, the silence and austerity of the Church help us to live in an environment of prayer, fully attentive to the gift we celebrate. We are grateful. We know the price of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus, is the model to imitate, that is, for us to reproduce his attitudes. We must be persons that can love all the way and trust the Father in the face of adversity.