It was preparation day – the day on which the Jewish high-priest slaughtered the Passover lambs for the Feast of Passover – the feast celebrating the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
It was a Friday: the city of Jerusalem was filled with people buying and selling and bickering. Children were playing games in the narrow streets. It was about 11:00 am. As the crowds began gathering to watch three condemned criminals on their final death march to Calvary, a hill just outside the city gates.
The sparse laughing crowd began to swell into an angry, blood-thirsty mob, pointing and shoving, and hissing at the signs which named the crimes of the three prisoners, one, in particular, stood out. “This is Jesus, King of the Jews”.
What a ridiculous sight to behold! Thorns for a crown, a blood-soaked cloak for a regal mantle, a cross-beam for a scepter, the poorest King who ever lived; stripped before the people He created, and nailed to the death – bed of the cross. “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” Executed for corrupting the religious life of the Hebrew people and inciting a riot against the Roman Emperor.
The procession moved through the narrow streets to Calvary where the execution was to take place. Crucifixion was not only the most horrible instrument of torture ever devised; but to the people of Jesus’ time, the cross was also a symbol of abandonment – abandonment by God.
The cross was a sign that the person who hung there was an outcast of the almighty. “If you are the King of the Jews, then come down from that cross,” the soldiers jeered, “Save yourself.” “He trusts in God – let God deliver him now,” shouted the high priests. If it really was true, as some had said – that this carpenter from Nazareth was the Son of God, why didn’t God send a platoon of angels to rescue him?
On Calvary, humanity said “Yes” to its hatred, its hostility, its selfishness, its disobedience; humanity said “No” to God; but through the cross, God the Father has said a louder “No”. “No” to the judgment hall where Pilate condemned Jesus to death. “No” to the grave where Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus. “No” to the stone that shut him in the tomb. “No” to the power of sin and death in the dying and rising of His beloved Son.
The cross tells us that our salvation was not achieved by the snap of a divine finger, it came at a great price. The price of a crown of thorns, a brutal scourging with a whip, five bloody wounds in His hands, feet and side, a slow agonizing death on the wood of a Cross.
Good Friday teaches us that pain, anxiety, suffering and death are part of our lives, just as it was part of Jesus’ life, just as it is part of every life.
Good Friday teaches us that suffering is not an option for us, any more than it was an option for Jesus. Jesus is not the way to health, wealth, and material happiness. He does not offer us an escape from sickness, poverty and hardship; He offers us the cross. The cross must be a vital reality in our lives. Jesus said: “If you want to be My followers, pick up your cross and follow Me to calvary.”
We must stretch our hands and feet and be nailed to the cross with Jesus – our crosses of anxiety, discomfort, monotony, sickness, loneliness, heartaches and disappointments. We must suffer as Mary suffered seeing Jesus suspended from the cross. We must have the courage of Veronica who pushed her way through the crowd to wipe the sweaty, bloody face of Jesus.
We must have the commitment to the will of the Father as Jesus did, to stand up and fight for the truth of our faith, for our Holy Father Pope Francis as he is attacked and his motives questioned by so many so-called Catholics and theologians, and never give up that fight against the immorality and indifference of our society.
We must strip ourselves of selfishness and sin as Jesus was stripped before His crucifixion. We must return to the Lord our God – not with empty words and pious dribble, but with a changed heart, giving ourselves totally to the Father as Jesus did so that in the words of Saint Paul: “It is now no longer I who live, but rather Christ who lives in me”.
Good Friday has transformed the cross from a symbol of cruelty, hatred, and despair to a sign of hope and joy. It offers hope to those who are weary of life. It offers the promises of forgiveness to those who feel the heaviness of guilt. It offers meaning to those whose lives seem senseless and meaningless.
In those moments when we experience illness, sorrow, depression loneliness, and death, the Cross is the burning torch keeping alive the hope and expectation of resurrection and new life. Looking to the cross this Good Friday night, we are able to see and experience the father’s love and mercy for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived and whoever lives today.
So, in the midst of all the anxiety, discord, and disharmony; in the midst of all the contradictions between sadness and joy, hunger and plenty, disease and well – being, war and peace, there is the Cross.
It is God who gives us the Cross, and it is the Cross that gives us God. It is God who gives us life, and it is Christ’s death that gives our lives meaning.
Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God’s love for us is revealed more perfectly than in any other way; it was the cross yesterday, it is the cross today, it will be the cross tomorrow, next week and for a thousand weeks and years and centuries. We hold the cross high – the cross – a symbol of shame and disgrace.
We hold the cross high and offer it to every person who joins us on our pilgrimage to the house of our Father. We offer the cross to those who pass by. We offer the cross to those who care to notice, and to those who do not. We offer the cross to our world – to our society – to our universe.
Once Jesus is on the cross, God has done all he can do for us. Nothing is missing, nothing is lost, nothing is without purpose in god’s grand design for the ultimate fulfillment of his creation.
This Good Friday, we stand at the foot of the cross. We hear the mockery of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentations of the virgin mother and the other women.
From His cross, the crucified Christ looks down upon each one of us with death in His bleeding hands and feet, but with life in the light of His eyes. He will never let us alone. He will never go away. He demands from each of us a choice – a choice between love and indifference. He is demanding our response – He is thirsting for our love.
Now we have entered into the silence of this holy night – into the silence of the cross – the silence of death – which seemed to be the final defeat of the One who brought light to those living in darkness. The One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and mercy. The One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person.
Through the suffering and death of the Lord on the Cross, God bent down over us and lowered Himself, even to the darkest corners of our lives – in order to stretch out His hand and draw us back to His Father. Once Jesus is on the cross, God has done all that He can do for us. He has vanquished death, sin, and evil, to give us new risen life.