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2023-04-08 Good Friday

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

We have arrived. Our Lenten journey to the cross is completed. We have destinated. Like auguring that final load of grain into the bin at harvest or canning that last jar of pickled beets, there is a sense of accomplishment with it as well as a sigh of relief that it is finally over. It is finished. And yet, unlike earthly activities that we accomplish, Good Friday champions the truth that God has accomplished task this for you. We have walked with our Lord, staying faithful to Him, suppressing our flesh through fasting, drawing closer to Him with prayer and scripture readings and showing our Lord’s love by giving generously and charitably. Yet in the midst of all these Lenten disciplines, we cherish above all what the Lord has done for us.

When you read the Scriptures, especially those that chronicle the life of Christ our Savior, you quickly see the heart of God. Whenever Jesus encountered a person, He touched that person’s heart and soul and transformed him or her. These encounters happened time and time again throughout Jesus’ 3 year ministry. And even now, at the time of His most holy passion, His work of transforming lives did not stop. His mission continued to the very end of His life. He healed people. Comforted people. Strengthened people. He changed their outlook and perspective on life forever! Very few people have had the kind of impact on the world that Christ Jesus our Lord has had and continues to have.

The journey to the cross began in a garden. The garden of Gethsemane. It is of little coincidence that our Lord’s passion begins where mankind’s downfall began. From the garden of paradise - Eden - to the garden of suffering - Gethsemane - our Lord seeks to bring salvation. In Eden, Adam and Eve conversed with the ruler of darkness. In Gethsemane, Christ conversed with the Father of lights. In Eden, Adam and Eve sinned. In Gethsemane, Christ agonized over the suffering for that sin. In Eden, Adam took the forbidden fruit from Eve. In Gethsemane, Christ willingly took the cup of suffering from the Father. In Eden, the sword was drawn to block fallen Adam from the tree of life. In Gethsemane, the sword was sheathed to open the way to the life giving tree of the cross.

As the sun set even further behind the horizon, the blue light of twilight covered the garden of Gethsemane and it gets increasingly darker. Judas the betrayer comes with the rabble of soldiers. With a kiss, the gesture of love and friendship, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of sinners. 72,000 angels could have descended at His beckon call. Instead, Jesus called Judas friend. He pursued the will of the Father rather than the will of man and willingly gave Himself over to be captured - watching as all the disciples left Him and fled.

The next step in the journey was the judgment of Pontius Pilate. It is clear from the scriptures that Pilate was torn about this Jesus. He questioned the motives of the Jews, perceiving jealousy to be the cause of their hatred. He found no guilt in Him, asking the crowds “What evil has he done?” The answer to which, is “nothing.” The Lord never did any evil thing. He was the innocent one. And yet He still willingly took upon Himself the flogging by canes, the scourging with whips, the mockery of the soldiers and their false worship of Hailing the King of the Jews, the needling of the crown of thorns. The purple robe arrayed the King, but it was nothing less than a bitter joke.

Then came the words: “Crucify Him! He has made Himself the Son of God.” Yet, He did no such thing. He was and is the Son of God by the testimony of the Father Himself. It was no mere facade. It was the truth! Pilate struggles with what to do with Jesus. Fearing the crowds, he takes the reluctant action.

Pilate was asked by the crowds to release to them a prisoner, as was the custom. He tried to get the crowd to release Jesus, despite the High Priests stirring up the crowd. Instead of Jesus, the King of the Jews, the crowd asks for Barabbas, a rebel and a murderer. It is less than coincidence that the name “Barabbas” actually means “son of the father.” Ironically, the crowds must choose between one “Son of the Father” and the other. By taunting the crowd and getting them to choose Barabbas, the Chief Priests indicate to which father they belong - the devil (JN 8:44). The choice was made and Jesus was delivered over to be crucified.

The gloomy procession of three men bound in chains, carrying their crosses to the old stone quarry outside the city was nothing less than dreadful. There, they would be nailed to the heavy wooden beams and left to die of thirst, blood loss and finally, asphyxiation. As Simon was about to pass by this march of death, he noticed that one of the men no longer had the strength to carry His heavy burden. No matter how much the soldiers whipped Him and harassed Him, He could not take another step. Simon was conscripted by the soldiers to carry the cross of Christ. It probably never occurred to him what he was actually doing, in becoming a bearer of the cross of Christ. Such an encounter would change his life forever.

Simon was the first one to follow Christ’s command: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross.” Such a command means nothing less than to “Share with me in the sufferings of this world. Share with me my longing for love of the world, to suffer for it, to lay down your life for it, to revive it.” Each one of us, each Christian is called to pick up this cross of self-denial, of self-sacrifice for the lives of others. If we wear the cross around our necks, it is nothing less than a reminder of this. The life of God laid down for us, that we may lay our own lives down for others.

Faithful women surrounded Jesus all of His earthly ministry, as they do now. More often than not it is Mothers and Grand-Mothers who pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. A great multitude of women walked with Jesus on the procession to be crucified. They mourned Him and lamented Him. Yet Jesus’ words are “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Weeping is not appropriate for the One who redeems the world through the Cross, but is suited for one’s own sins and for the sufferings of others.

The gall mixed with wine was supposedly a pain-reducing narcotic, something that the women may have put together to ease Jesus’ suffering. Yet our Lord refuses to refuse suffering. He does not refuse the soldier’s mockery. He does not refuse the sign above His cross. He does not lash out at the people wagging their heads. He does not give in to the temptation to jump down off the cross. He refuses to give into Himself, fixing His will with that of the Father: to continue along this way of sorrow that salvation might be won for the people. For the crowds, for the soldiers, for the criminals, for the sinners, for us.

Our Lord is crucified. The Holy body that Mary gently wrapped in swaddling cloths is pierced and bleeding. The wood of the manger has now the wood of the cross. Our Lord, the suffering servant, prays the words of Psalm 22. Taken without the rest of the Psalm the words “Why have You forsaken Me?” could be understood as a cry of despair. Since Jesus took upon Himself our human nature, He experiences our separation from God, He feels our suffering and our distress. He identifies with us in every way. Yet, He does not despair. Instead, He yields up His spirit. His death was voluntary to the very end. For even on the Cross, His life could not be taken from Him against His will. His death reconciles mankind to God by causing every aspect of our corrupt human nature to be transformed, for whatever Divinity touches is healed. Christ accepts human nature in order to sanctify human nature. He accepts our weakness in order to make us strong. He takes upon Himself our sin in order to free us from sin. He suffers in order to transfigure suffering. And, He enters death in order to destroy it.

The tremendous response of the earth to such an event is nothing short of amazing. The earth quakes, the rocks split. Tombs open and Saints rise, giving witness to the resurrection yet to come. The most telling words of all come from the centurion who was keeping watch “Truly this was the Son of God!” On the cross, God dies. And He does so for your salvation.

After the Lord had given up His Spirit, one of the soldiers came by and pierced His side with a spear. Immediately, blood and water came out. Some have said this was because the spear pierced the pericardium, a double-walled bag of water that surrounds the heart. Yet a more spiritual meaning is envisioned here in the Gospel. That of the great sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The water brings to mind our own baptism which is participation in Christ’s life giving death (Rom 6:3-11). And in Holy Communion we receive the life-giving blood. From our Lord’s pierced side we receive the forgiveness of sins and the regeneration of all humanity.

And finally, Our Lord is buried. Two of His “hidden” disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who believed in Him secretly, came and took our Lord’s body for burial. By placing Him in the tomb, they publicly show their devotion to the Lord in stark contrast to the disciples who scattered and fled from Jesus in the Garden.

This is how the journey to the cross concludes. It is finished - but it isn’t over. We meditate on our Lord’s passion: His pain and suffering, His shedding of innocent blood. We remember the people’s lives that our Lord touched and healed. We encounter there in the tremendous love of God for this world, for you, for me. Our own sin and iniquity is what nailed our Lord to the cross. We caused the Lord of life to die. But the story doesn’t end in death. The one-time terrible sign of the Cross is now become a sign of joy and victory; an instrument of tortuous execution has been turned into the instrument of our salvation. That is why we now adorn it with silver and gold and jewels, and show it such honour. And by it, our lives are transformed as was Simon of Cyrene’s. As Christ bore His Cross for us, we patiently bear our smaller crosses, and thus share in a small way, His suffering. Today, we suffer with Him but soon, we will rejoice with Him! For the sadness of Good Friday will be transformed into Resurrection joy! Thanks be to God now and forever. Amen!

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