Good Friday

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The Crucifixion, from The Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald 1512–1516.

God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A major portion of each of the four Gospels is taken up with a description of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.  And all of the teachings of the Gospels leads to this same place – Christ was born into this world that he might offer himself up on the Cross.

The passion and death of Jesus is at the heart of what the Christian faith proclaims.  And yet it is a mystery, that through this death all of human history and even the created order is changed.  This is why we pause on this day, Good Friday, from all our busy-ness to attend to this highest thing – all else in our earthly lives, our tasks and plans and human community is nothing worth compared to this, this supreme revelation of the charity of God.

It was at the ninth hour of the day, that is, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, that our Saviour died on the Cross – and had he hung there for 6 hours before he gave up his spirit and died.  His terrible torture was followed by a most painful and a shameful way to die – the Cross.  This form of capital punishment was later outlawed by Romans as being too cruel, too degrading.

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One could focus on the intensity of the physical suffering of Jesus – yet many people in his day, Jews and other non-Romans suffered the same fate for insurrection or criminality.  What makes Jesus’ death on the cross different?  It is not the degree of Jesus’ suffering that makes his death efficacious for us all, but the perfection of his offering, the sinless life of the Son of God.

Christ’s offering meets the justice of God for us.  It is his perfect offering that cancels out the debt we owe because of our sins.  And it is the brightness of his offering, not the darkness of our sin, that we look to to be assured that it is enough.

If we trust in Jesus’ offering, if we plead it before the Father, and if we intend to live a new life in Him, we are assured of perfect forgiveness.

It is God who has taken this initiative without even us asking – God commends his love towards us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  It is a gift freely offered, and it need only be received by our trusting in it.

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Things change in us as we meditate upon Jesus lifted up on the Cross.

Last night we looked at the gift of Holy Communion and about the call of St Paul to examine ourselves before we come forward to receive Christ.  Self-knowledge has always been seen as key to growing in wisdom in the Greek and Egyptian traditions.  And honesty before God who is the Truth if we are to draw near is clear from the Jewish tradition.

But when we do this inward turn, we can be terrified by what we see.  Any serious self-examination will turn up impure thoughts, selfish motives for our actions, and sins that we have been too ashamed to admit even to ourselves.

And yet, if we meditate upon the love of God shown to us on the Cross at the same time, we are given confidence to allow both the truth and God’s mercy to flow into our souls – so that our journey to the kingdom of heaven is not in starts and stops, but an ever progressive embracing of God’s mercy for ourselves.

Jesus hung on the Cross to unlock our access to the Kingdom of heaven. And only His act can bring about the uncovering of every evil in the soul, laying it bear for healing and for infilling with the truth. Only His body and blood – can be applied to the purifying of our bodies and souls that we may know and enter the new life of heaven. Living rivers of water are opened up in us, Jesus says. Or using another metaphor – the fire of love is kindled in us. Everything changes.

As one preacher puts it…

Our task today is nothing other than the contemplation of that mystery of love. It is to fix our minds and hearts upon the passion and the dying of the Son of God. That is, in a way, the whole task of our discipleship… That is now our duty: to look upon the crucified, and that must become also our delight… This is why the heart of Christian life is the sacrament of Calvary, the sacrament of body broken, and blood out-poured. Christ’s sacrifice abides with us in the sacrament… We must eat and drink the charity of God so that God’s own charity, which hears, believes, hopes and endures, may be the substance of our life and the renewal of our minds. [Robert Crouse]

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Not only does this contemplation and partaking bring about a renewal within us, unblocking every obstacle to our own growth in the Spirit and to our movement to God, but it changes our relation to all others in the world.  The mercy that we come to know and more fully embrace for ourselves, can then be extended by us to all whom we meet.

When we look on the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross, we see more clearly the very same dynamics working themselves out again and again in the world around us – in our daily life, in our sometimes painful relations with members in our own families, our friends and especially with our enemies.  We know this on a personal level – but it also has implications for the societies in which we live.

Sexism, racism, unhealthy nationalism, tribalism, all forms of unjust discrimination are seen for what they are – forms of bullying – the strong trying to take advantage of the weak – in the light of the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross it is seen plainly, cruelty is uncovered, the devil is unmasked and cannot be hidden again.

And as we become stronger in Christ ourselves, we will not turn around and do the same that has been done to us and we are moved to speak out when we see injustice in the society in which we live.

The Cross of Christ heals the blindness of our minds to the truth and the paralysis of our wills to love.  It is God’s way to recover His image and likeness in us.

In time and with maturity we see and respond with charity better in our daily lives in a way that spreads the power of love shown to us on the Cross – God’s love is loosed upon the world:

  • His out-stretched arms become our out-stretched arms;
  • His intercession for us becomes our intercession for others and for the world;
  • His washing our feet, becomes our washing the feet of our neighbours;
  • As he laid down his life for us, so do we likewise show by our lives, that there is no greater love than thisthat we lay down our lives for one another.

Let us pray…

Lord Jesus Christ, who for our salvation did ascend the Cross, to enlighten the world that lay in darkness: Gather us this day with all your faithful to that same holy Cross; that, gazing in penitence upon your great sacrifice for us, we may be loosed from all our sins, and entering into the mystery of your passion, be crucified to the vain pomp and power of this passing world; and finding our glory in the Cross alone, we may attain to your everlasting charity and joy; where you, the Lamb that once was slain, live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Deposition, Follower of Rogier van der Weyden, Netherlandish, c. 1490 (Getty Museum)