The pierced heart - Good Friday 2019

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The pierced heart - Good Friday 2019

There are four accounts of the passion and death of the Lord, one by each of the four evangelists. On Palm Sunday last, we read St Luke’s account. In other years we might read from St Matthew or St Mark. Always on Good Friday we read from St John.

Why always St John? One reason I believe is the simple fact that of all the evangelists, St John was the only one actually present at Calvary. He was a witness to all that happened as he stood at the foot of the cross alongside Mary, mother of the Lord, and some faithful women disciples.

Indeed his account offers detail not provided by the other evangelists. For example, he alone tells of Jesus entrusting his mother to the care of St John.

As we follow his account of the passion and death of the Lord we can see that it leads towards a particular moment. This moment was of great significance to St John. It was in fact the moment of personal revelation. So he highlights this moment. He declares: “This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence and he knows he speaks the truth.”

What St John is referring to is the moment when the soldier pierces the side of Jesus with a lance. St John explains that the Jews wanted the bodies to be taken down from the cross because the following day was the Sabbath. Pilate agreed to their request. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves causing them to asphyxiate. However, when they came to Jesus they realised that he was already dead, so the soldier decided to pierce the heart of Jesus with his spear.

Then St John describes what he saw and he declared: “At once there came out blood and water.” This was a moment of revelation for St John. He realised that this was not just the tragic end of the life of good man. It was not just the gross injustice in the execution of an innocent man. This was a sacrifice. Jesus was offering his life as a sacrifice.

In this moment he understood the meaning of what was happening on Calvary. He says that he describes this piercing of the heart of Jesus and the flow of blood and water “that you might believe as well”.

St John invites his readers to understand what he came to understand at this moment. He invites us today to see in the death of Jesus, the act of God bringing salvation to humanity. Jesus who is both Son of God and Son of Man is offering himself as a perfect sacrifice to His Father. 

As a Jew he understood that a sacrifice involved the separation of all the blood from the sacrificial victim. And this is what he just witnessed. The last drops of blood coming from the heart of Jesus was the sign that the sacrifice was complete.

He also noted that once the final drops of blood drained from the heart of Jesus, water began to flow. He saw meaning in this. This was a sign of new life coming forth. The sacrifice would release the flood of grace and mercy flowing out upon humanity. Water, as we know from our baptismal liturgy, is the sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The sacrifice was complete and saving grace flowed forth upon humanity.

As St John observed the piercing of the heart of Jesus he came to see the meaning of what was occurring on Calvary. This, of course, is the Christian understanding of Good Friday. Today we stand before the immense mystery that Christ died on the cross as an offering to his Father on our behalf. It was an atoning sacrifice and the relationship between God and man, sundered by sin, was now restored.

St John refers to words of the Prophet Zechariah, “They will look upon the one whom they have pierced.” Here the evangelist is inviting us to focus upon the pierced heart of the Lord. In the pierced heart, he says, you will understand the meaning of the death of Jesus.

Today we stand at the foot of the cross. We stand before this immense mystery of what God has done for us in Christ. Let us quietly ponder the price Christ was prepared to pay for the sins of each of us, that we might be redeemed and given the promise of eternal union with God.

In a few moments we will come forward to venerate the cross. Let us approach the cross in silent and humble gratitude.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 19 April 2019