4/7/23 Homily: "Good" Friday
The readings for the Lord's Passion can be found: [HERE]
Why do we call today, “Good Friday,” when on this day, we recall how our Lord was betrayed, abducted, unlawfully imprisoned, falsely condemned, and executed? Is calling today, good, really the fair way to characterize the solemn event of our Lord’s Passion?
The short answer is: yes; because we look upon today’s event through the lens of the Resurrection, which cannot be constrained by time nor space. Once the Resurrection happened in history, history itself changed: forwards and backwards.
Imagine a boulder being dropped in the middle of a lake. Waves erupt from that epicenter that reaches every shore. Imagine a crack of thunder that echoes far beyond the initial bolt of lightning in every direction. That’s the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. History itself is shaped by that pivotal event. We record time itself around the Person of Jesus: it’s 2023 A.D.—Anno Domini—in the Year of our Lord.
By divine inspiration, the Bible was recorded in view of the Resurrection, even when so much of it was written long before and after the earthly life of Jesus. That’s explicitly the case in the Gospel of John, which I’ve mentioned before as we’ve heard from it.
For example, a couple of Sundays ago, we read of Lazarus, who died and was raised to life again by Jesus. Two narratives were at play: a narrative maintained by the crowd, which focused on death and sorrow; and the narrative of Jesus, who wept not at the death of his friend, but at their lack of belief in him in the face of death.
Death seemed to resonate more loudly within the crowd rather than life in Christ. But in the end, Christ’s narrative is the true one, as his word raised Lazarus to life again. Our Passion narrative this evening follows along that theme.
Near the onset of our gospel passage, we’re told very clearly that Jesus already knew everything that was going to happen to him. As the soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus revealed himself with the words, I AM, which incidentally is the Name by which God revealed himself to Moses. At this revelation, the soldiers turned away and fell to the ground. Then Peter lashes out against a guard, and Jesus stops him and orders him to sheath his sword.
This is not a portrayal of a man being seized unwillingly. Jesus very clearly assents to events as they unfold. When Jesus is brutalized, he responds with calmness and reason. As Pontius Pilate questions Jesus, it becomes explicitly stated that Pilate is afraid of Jesus. On the Cross, Jesus makes pronouncements as if from a throne. He addresses his Mother and the beloved disciple as if speaking into existence a new Adam and Eve.
I dare say that even a secular scholar of literary works would have to admit that John’s narrative style presents to the reader a Jesus who is no passive victim, but rather an active participant in his own sacrifice. The horrifying details of the Passion are consistent with the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke; but from a literary perspective, John’s portrayal of Jesus is one of being absolute master over events.
When we listen to the Passion narrative according to John, we’re called to be guided by his sense of storytelling, and view the Passion accordingly. That view allows us to call today—good.
A worldly narrative looks upon the Passion of Christ as a horrifying execution that ends at an empty tomb; literally, a dead end. But as we’ll hear on Easter Sunday—again from John’s gospel—the story continues beyond the empty tomb, and the surprising reveal that is the Resurrection gives new insight into every encounter and circumstance that leads up to it.
The Resurrection also gives true light upon all prophecy, and unveils their mystery. We heard one from Isaiah this evening:
Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Only the Resurrection can make sense of this. Another prophecy, from Zechariah, written six centuries before Christ, is shocking in its accuracy:
I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day, the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Ha’dadrim’mon in the plain of Megid’do. The land shall mourn, each family by itself…
On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness… (12:10-12a; 13:1).
Today, we pay tribute to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re not called to wallow in despair and regret, and weep at an empty tomb. The only Jesus that exists is the One who lives.
The Resurrection, which illumines this celebration, allows us to approach the Cross with gratitude and hope, with that purifying sense of contrition, and that desire for conversion and repentance. Those are all good things for us to pursue on this Good Friday. God bless you.