John 18:1 - 19:42 (Good Friday)
|Christ Crucified, El Greco, 1604|
In the movie the Life of Pi, there is an interesting scene in which the main character, Pi, who is then a Hindu with no knowledge of Christianity, recalls a childhood experience in which he entered a Catholic Church because a friend dared him to go and drink some of the holy water. After he has had a few sips of the holy water, Pi began looking around the Church and was struck by the paintings of the Stations of the Cross. As he is looking at these images of the sufferings of Jesus, a priest approaches Pi and the two get into a conversation. Pi shares his confusion with the priest. He says that he cannot understand why God would do this. Why would God send His Son, an innocent, to suffer and die for the guilty? At each Good Friday liturgy, I feel a bit like Pi. I enter the Church with my mind full of different concerns and preoccupations. Then, when I hear the account of Jesus’ Passion, I am startled by the story. Along with Pi I find myself asking, why would God do thing? After Pi has asked his questions, the priest responds with one simple, powerful statement: the only thing you need to know is that God did this because He loves you.
We need to remember that the Gospel we have heard today of the Passion of Jesus is the climax in the world’s greatest love story. This love story began at the moment of creation. God created everything out of nothing because of an overflow of His love and goodness which could not be contained within the Trinity. He created humanity to be in a relationship with Himself. We were created so that we could love God in return. This plan went off the rails when we used our free will to choose sin, selfishness and greed rather than a relationship with God and one another. Throughout history, God tried again and again to draw us back to Himself - through Covenants, the Commandments and the Prophets - but we continued to go further astray. Finally, in the final and decisive act of this love story, God sent His only Son to achieve our reunification with God, something which was impossible for us to do on our own. When we hear the Passion of Jesus, we need to remember that Jesus freely chose this path. This is particularly clear in the Gospel of John. Jesus is shown in control of the situation, like a King. The Cross is His throne. Why is there so much suffering in this love story? In His Passion, we can see that Jesus, the sinless one, has become a kind of lightening rod for all the hate, evil and violence in the world. He takes all the suffering and punishment that should come to us on account of our sins and absorbs it into Himself. He suffers beatings, insult, crucifixion and death because He loves us so much that He could not bear to be separated from us.
We need to remember that the death of Jesus is not the end of this love story. We need to realize that in in this story, which can seem so hopeless and final, there is a glimmer of hope. The Gospel of John presents this in a very interesting way. This Gospel is the only one to tell us that after Jesus died and was taken down from the Cross, He was buried in a tomb that was in a garden. This detail is significant. Jesus is put in the tomb just like a seed is planted in a garden. The seed is put into the ground with the expectation that it will soon sprout forth in new life. This reminds us of the words of Jesus:
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)
Though there is terrible sadness when Jesus dies and is placed, or planted, in the tomb in the garden, at the same time their is hope and expectation. Jesus’ death is not the finale.
We need to remember that this love story is incredibly personal. Jesus did not die for “humanity” in general. He suffered and died for me, personally. He suffered and died for each and every one of you. Because He is God, Jesus would have been able to know and picture in His mind every human being for whom He was suffering, even those who were not yet born. You and I were literally on Jesus’ mind when He hung dying on the Cross. Several days ago, Pope Francis reminded us of this.
This week, we should ponder Christ's pain and tell ourselves: 'this is for me. Even if I was the only person in the world, he would have done it. He did it for me. We should kiss the crucifix [today, on Good Friday] and say : 'for me . Thank you Jesus, for me'.
We cannot listen to the Passion story like some distant spectators. It should be something very personal.
Today we wonder aloud with Pi, why did God do all this? Why did the innocent one suffer on behalf of the guilty? In the end the only thing we need to know is that God did this because He loves us. Let us never approach this story as a mere spectator, but enter into it. It is a love story and it must be very personal.