22 April 2011 - Good Friday Commemoration

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Good Friday Commemoration
22 April, 2011

Towards the conclusion of the moving narrative of the final hours of the life of Jesus, we were told of three instances in which he spoke briefly while hanging on the cross. In the first instance, he spoke to his mother, and to the Beloved disciple, St. John, indicating from then on, that each were commissioned to take care of the other; he then cried out that he was thirsty, and finally, he said that his mission was accomplished.

In the other gospel narratives, there are four further sayings attributed to Jesus in the same circumstances. One of those statements was a prayer: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The phrase is recorded in the gospel of St. Luke. It was clearly directed to those who had been involved in a significant way in bringing about the death of Jesus on the cross.

We could however ask the question whether they did in fact know what they are doing. In a very real sense they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew that Jesus was an innocent man, and that the process which brought about his death was a sham.

What the people did not know, was the extent of the love that Jesus had for them. They had little awareness of what Jesus was really trying to say in his preaching and in his actions. In one sense the captors and executioners did know what they were doing but in another sense they did not.

It is the same with ourselves. Most of the time, when we do something wrong, we know that it is wrong. Even if there is some hostile mob reaction, our sense of right and wrong cannot be derailed that easily. This is not just an observation that may be interesting to pursue. It touches us as well – that we do not understand or appreciate either the extent to which God loves us. This reflection on the death of Jesus may help us get the message a little clearer

We gain some idea of the extent of the love of Jesus for us, through the words of the First Reading:

“Ours were the sufferings he bore
Ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
Crushed for our sins.”

In the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, writer encourages us to be confident in approaching the throne of grace, so that we shall receive mercy from him, and find grace when we are in need of help. By my reckoning, we are in need of one or the other, or both all the time.

The father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, used say that we get a better understanding of things when we see them lying on the ground in pieces. This is also the case when it comes to love and faith. At the moment that Jesus died, as we heard in the narrative a few minutes ago, we were told that the veil of the temple, which impeded the people to see what was going on in the holy of holies, was torn from top to bottom.

The cross of Jesus tears apart that veil and lets us see inside the heart of God. And what do we see there? A Heart of Love, of forgiveness, of compassion and tenderness which go beyond our understanding.

It is not surprising when we stop to think, that many millions of people, ourselves included, wear some form of a cross. They come in all shapes and sizes, made from different materials, some quite elaborate, others very basic. We also see them in a variety of different positions – on church spires, in graveyards, on the side of the road where there has been a fatal accident.

In each and every instance, the cross is the ultimate symbol of love. It shows what love, is, what love costs and what love does for us. It reminds us of the point I was making at the beginning, that while those who were involved in the death of Christ may not have understood what was happening, the message of God’s love in the life and person of Jesus remains as strong as ever.

I believe that there is a strong indication of our recognition of these realities, in the very important component of this commemoration of the Death of Christ. We see the merit of the prayers that we offer for people who share our same Christian faith, for who are members of the same Church, as well as those who are struggling in one of many different ways to overcome fears and failures, disabilities and illness, and every form of human tragedy that can be experienced.

It is with love and confidence, based on the message of the Cross,  that we now move ahead to pray for these fellow human beings on this very special and different kind of day.