'Participating in the sufferings of Christ' - Good Friday

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 'Participating in the sufferings of Christ' - Good Friday

My brothers and sisters,

In a few moments we will be invited to venerate the cross. This is a very personal moment when each of us can express our own humble gratitude for what Christ has done for us. The veneration of the cross enables us to acknowledge that by the cross I have been redeemed, my sins have been forgiven and I have access to eternal life. It is a moment when I express my deep indebtedness to God for such an extraordinary act of mercy and love towards a fragile and sinful humanity of which I am but one example.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, the Lamb of God was sacrificed in a supreme act of atonement.

The Scriptures of the Old Testament revealed that the promised saviour would be a suffering servant, as our first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah so graphically described. Jesus himself knew what the outcome of his brief few years of public ministry would be. The shadow of the cross hung over him and he often referred to his fate. He knew that the purpose of his life was in fact his death. He spoke many times to his disciples about his impending death. He said, “The Son of Man will be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt 17:22) They were simple and explicit statements that not only prophesied his death but also spoke of his resurrection.

St Mark records the words, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days”.

“He began to teach them.” Clearly the Lord was seeking to explain that his mission was ultimately tied to his death. His disciples could not fathom this could not understand what he was trying to communicate to them. 

He would speak about his death using a number of images as in John’s second chapter he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then commented, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” The evangelist explains, “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”

Another telling image was the description of his death as a seed falling onto the ground: “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” (Jn 12:24)

In reference to a notable event during the time of the Jews travelling through the desert, Jesus says, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14-15)

It is clear that the thought of Calvary was never far from the mind of Jesus. He knew not only the fate that was ahead of him, but he understood what its mission and purpose was and so he embraced his death as indeed the very meaning of his life and mission.

In trying to convey to his disciples that this was his fate, Jesus also taught that this mystery of dying and rising was also to be part of the life of every one of his disciples.

He spoke explicitly about the fact that just as he would suffer at the hands of authorities so too would his followers. Thus he warned: “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues.” (Mt 10:17)

Jesus taught his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever should save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  (Mt 16:24-26) The Christian needs to understand that a similar path of self-sacrifice is to be their lot.

This is the experience of many Christians across the world today. In some 60 countries Christians experience active persecution. My own visit to Iraq and to Lebanon and to Egypt enabled me to see first-hand the suffering endured by Christian families there. I met with families who were forced to flee their homes and everything they possessed. I visited people in hospitals who had been attacked by gunmen.  I met with people who had lost family members in horrific suicide bombings.

But I’ll never forget a feisty old woman who said to me, “They can take everything but they cannot take my faith.”

On this Good Friday let us be in spiritual solidarity with our brethren in the faith who suffer daily because they will not let go of Christ. They are living Calvary as the reality of their lives because they follow Christ.

They are living Calvary as a reality in their lives because they wish to stay united with their saviour and their Lord, Jesus Christ.

We who have been blessed by freedom of religion should not take this for granted. We should be deeply grateful but also aware that this could change. The Lord has warned us that in fact the usual lot of the Christian is to be persecuted. If we are tested are we, like our brethren in so many parts of the world, ready to stand with our crucified saviour?

And what should our attitude be if we are persecuted? The Lord has given us very clear guidance. He taught in the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:12)

And our attitude towards those who are persecuting us? Again the Lord is explicit: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)

St Peter offered clear direction to the first Christians: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. … If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Pt 4:12-15)

St Peter says that in the experience of persecution, we are in fact participating in the sufferings of Christ. So those many Christians across the world who today are experiencing persecution are united with the sufferings of Christ. The passion of the Lord continues in the world today.

In a few moments we will come forward to venerate the cross of Christ. Let us do this as an act of faith and of deep gratitude to God. Let us do it also as an expression of our willingness to unite our lives with the sufferings of Christ, and – if it is required of us – that we too are prepared to suffer with him.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 30 March 2018

To listen to an audio recording of Archbishop Julian's homily, click here: