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Crucified not to condemn but to save: The Gift of Good Friday

April 11, 2017
A reflection on the Passion of our Lord
What do we celebrate on Good Friday? Why do we drag ourselves through the Passion year after year instead of skipping right ahead to the joy of the resurrection at Easter? Do we not know that Jesus is risen? Do we suffer from annual amnesia, reliving the same events over and over again?
On Good Friday we will gather in silence before the Cross of Christ. The priests and ministers will prostrate themselves, face down on the floor, solemn before the suffering of Jesus. We will listen to the Passion read from the Gospel of Saint John. We will kneel in silence when we hear the final words of Jesus on the Cross, when He says “It is finished,” bows His head, and gives up His spirit. We will mark the day with fasting, with hearts that remember the death of God at the hands of hateful men. We will be without words before the torture of an innocent man.
What is the meaning of all this?
Is it simply to inspire guilt? Is it to make us feel like terrible human beings, members of a species who killed God incarnate when He came to earth? Is it to make us feel hopeless despair and depressing sadness?
We find a key to answering these questions in the Letter to the Hebrews, the second reading for every Good Friday, which points us to the significance of what we celebrate: “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).
On the Cross, we do not see a tyrannical judge. We do not see a critic who has come to condemn us. We do not see a God who is annoyed and resentful. We see our Saviour. We see Jesus. We see a man bleeding willingly for our salvation. We see the mercy of the Father poured out for each of us; for every man and woman in human history and for each one of us – for you and for me.
This is the mystery of the Cross. This is the love of God. This is the gift that we celebrate Good Friday. We are not excited like the crowds on Palm Sunday. We are not overjoyed as the disciples seeing the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. But in silence and solemnity we receive the gift of Jesus to each one of us. We thank Him who held nothing back for us. We open ourselves to what He came to give us.
Jesus’ gift to us is not shame for our sins. He did not come to accuse us and leave us locked in our guilt. He came to give Himself to us. Nothing else could have saved us. Nothing else could take away what separates us from God. Nothing else could unlock for us the fullness of life, not only in this life but forever. He came to set us free. He came to take our sins away. He came to bring us a love that truly satisfies us.
This is the love of God, who gives Himself totally for us. Not to make us feel guilty or inadequate, but that we might receive what He comes to give us. In return, He does not want our hopelessness, our despair, our self-condemnation. In return, He wants us to give Him our sins, not so that He can hold them over our heads, but so that He can overcome them, destroy them, wipe them away, and make us free, joyful, and at peace.
Jesus dies on the Cross as our merciful Saviour. Jesus comes to give Himself to us, for us. And He does not stop giving until “It is finished.”
(Image: Raising of the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens)
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