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Good Friday

March 25, 2005

Blessed Good Friday!

Readings:
Isaiah 52:13- 53:12 (God laid our guilt upon Christ)
Psalm 31:1-25 “Father, I put my life in your hands”
Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 (Jesus, our high priest, knows our weakness and pleads for us)
+John 18:1-19:42 (the Passion)

Our watching and prayer with Jesus in the Garden is rudely interrupted. A band of soldiers invade the stillness of the moonlit Garden (the moon was full, since the date of Passover was determined by the phase of the moon) with lanterns, torches and weapons. Jesus, the King, goes to meet them, inquires into their business, and announces His identity. Despite themselves, they fall to the ground. “At Jesus’ Name every knee must bend in the Heavens, on the earth, and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). He issues a royal command: “If I AM the one you want, let these men go” (John 18:8). Peter, still determined to prevent Jesus’ death, starts flailing away with his sword. Jesus stops him and heals the ear he had managed to sever (John 18:10-11, Luke 22:49-51). Then Jesus allows Himself to be arrested, bound and led to trial before the high priest while His disciples flee into the darkness. While Jesus is being interrogated, Peter, His right-hand-man, denies any knowledge of Him once, twice, three times. A cock crows, Jesus turns His eyes to meet Peter’s, and Peter goes out, weeping bitterly (Luke 22:60-62).

At daybreak, Jesus is led to Pilate, who tries to determine just what sort of Kingdom Jesus rules. Jesus assures him that His Kingdom is not of this world, is not a threat to Roman authority. His Kingdom is conformity with Truth. Pilate, satisfied that Rome has no particular objection to this sort of Kingdom, tries to release Jesus. Intimidated by the falsehood that was threatening to riot in his courtyard, however, and more committed to “keeping the peace” than to Truth, he finally gives in to the crowd’s demands and hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus, disfigured by our abuse, crowned and robed with our mockery, bears the effects of our sin in His own Body. He takes up the cross that our guilt constructed for Him and bears it to the Place of the Skull. The Author of Life goes out to meet death in its own territory. Here He mounts His throne, His arms stretched wide in royal munificence to the whole world. The banner over His head proclaims Him King of the Jews (although He does not limit Himself to one nation). He bestows His garments on the soldiers who affix Him to His throne, bestows His mother on the only disciple present. He wages war on sin and its offspring, death. As the battle nears its end, He cries out, “I thirst”. He thirsts for souls, for children of men who will become children of God through their incorporation into His sufferings. He is offered vinegar, for our weak human nature can do no better. He accepts what we have to give, takes it into Himself and declares, “It is finished!”. Bowing His head, He gives up His spirit.

Even in death, Jesus continues to give. When the lance opens His side, the water and blood of Baptism (for martyrdom is a Baptism of blood, see St. Cyril of Jerusalem, _Catechetical Lectures_) flow forth. The blood is also the blood of the New Covenant. Even as woman was built up from the rib taken from Adam’s side as he slept, Christ’s Bride, the Church, is built up through the waters of Baptism and the Cup of Salvation which come forth from His side while He sleeps the sleep of death on the cross (see St. Augustine, _The City of God_).

Now the King, who had been presented with myrrh at His birth, is embalmed with myrrh and laid to rest in the earth in a new tomb, in another garden.

Our great high priest, like us in everything except sin, has passed through the veil. He has entered the heavenly Holy of Holies, where He pleads on our behalf. He has entered into God’s rest, the eternal Sabbath we are called to share (see Hebrews 4:10-11).

Let us go to Him with confidence to receive the mercy He thirsts to give.

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