On Good Friday we gather together as the Christian community to mourn the death of our most beloved member. We ‘behold the man’ and gaze upon Jesus, who took upon himself all of our sins and failings so that we could experience peace and reconciliation with the One who sent him.
Each year on Good Friday we read the passion according to St. John. Throughout the deeply moving story is an emphasis on Jesus’ sovereignty even in death. In John’s story of Jesus’ final hours, Pontius Pilate presents Jesus to the people with the words: Ecce Homo– Behold the Man
(19:5). What a haunting expression to describe the paradoxical person and mission of God's own son. Ecce Homo
– who came into the world as the sinless one, the perfect one, the just one, the holy one, and we killed him. Ecce Homo
– who lived for others, healing them, restoring them and loving them to life. Ecce Homo
– who had the courage to choose women as disciples and close friends in his day. Ecce Homo
– who claimed to have a unique, personal relationship with the God of Israel whom he called "Abba". Ecce Homo
– in whom humanity was so well integrated that he was fully human and is truly a model for each of how we must be fully human in order to be authentically holy.
On Good Friday we are asked to realize very deeply the tragedy of Jesus' death in the context of our own trials, sorrows, and deaths. Jesus' cross is a message, a word for us, a sign of contradiction, a sign of victory, and we gaze upon the cross and respond in faith to the message of life which flows from it, a message which brings us healing and reconciliation.
As we contemplate the cross of Jesus, perhaps we can only cry out out: "Where are you, God?" "If only you would have been here, our brother would not have died!" And in the cross we find the answer: God is hanging on a tree, in the broken body of a young man- arms outstretched to embrace us, and gently asking us to climb up onto the cross with him, and look at the world from an entirely new perspective.
Or perhaps we need to cry out for mercy, asking that he not forget us in the new Jerusalem: "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."
From the depth of our own darkness and shadows, we might have to pray with the Cleopas and his unnamed companion on the road to Emmaus, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening and the day is far spent." Or maybe in the midst of our despair, we recognize the source of our hope and echo the words of Jesus, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Then perhaps we are Peter, stunned with his master's extraordinary gentleness and patience with him, and we can only utter, "But Lord, you know that I love you."
For John, Good Friday is already Pentecost. Already at the crucifixion the Church is born and empowered with the Spirit. Before he dies, Jesus commits his beloved disciple to his mother’s care and his mother to that disciple’s care. “Behold your son! Behold your mother!” From now on the disciple, and the Christian community that he symbolizes, is to continue Jesus’ work on earth. Even the bowing of his head at the moment of death can be interpreted as a nod in their direction. Out of Jesus’ death comes life for his followers. In his death, Jesus becomes for us a point of embarkation.
We all know people like this: just being in their presence, somehow seems to sort things out for us, it puts the pieces of our lives back together again. As one of the characters in Toni Morrison’s award-winning book Beloved
describes the effect of his lover upon him: “She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”
On Good Friday as we stand grieving, huddled together on the hill of death, surrounding the most important member of our community, we know in some strange and mysterious way that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus gathers up the broken pieces of our lives, puts them all back together, in the right order, and makes us whole again.
"At this spectacle of people rushing to a Crucifix for so many centuries and from every part of the world, a question arises: Was this only a great, beneficent man or was He a God? You Yourself gave the answer and anyone whose eyes are not veiled by prejudice but are eager for the light will accept it.When Peter proclaimed: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God," You not only accepted this confession but also rewarded it. You have always claimed for Yourself that which the Jews reserved for God. To their scandal You forgave sins, You called Yourself master of the Sabbath, You taught with supreme authority, You declared Yourself the equal of the Father. Several times they tried to stone You as a blasphemer, because You uttered the name of God.When they finally took You and brought You before the high priest, he asked You solemnly: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" You answered, "I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." You accepted even death rather than retract and deny this divine essence of yours.I have written, but I have never before been so dissatisfied with my writing. I feel as if I had left out the greater part of what could be said of You, that I have said badly what should have been said much better. There is one comfort, however: the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ. And fortunately – in spite of everything– this still happens."Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I)"To Jesus: I Write in Trepidation"in Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation