Good Friday Reflection

We might put on the lips of Jesus these words of Isaiah as Jesus, like a disciple, learns something from them.

God, my Lord, has given me the language of someone who lets himself be taught, to learn in my turn how to strengthen someone who can do no more."
-  Isaiah 50:4

The key phrase is ‘can do no more’.  Someone has come on earth to strengthen all those who can do no more.

It is a revelation about God.  God is not the All Powerful One, who strengthens us in our weakness.  God is a God who can do no more.  God is a God who feels fright and anguish at the approach of death. A God who says, ‘my soul is sorrowful even to the point where the sorrow causes the dying’.  A God who dies in a great cry, after having said, ‘my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’.  A God as human as it is possible to be.   That is, dead.  A God who would reveal that only in death is the seed of resurrection. The Cross is the ultimate expression of Emmanuel. 

Is it possible after this to make a casual announcement, after this, that there will be mass as usual next Sunday? 

But – is there something more in the silent peace of Good Friday?

We will find him there

“When Christ came into our midst to redeem us, he descended so low that after that no one would be able to fall without falling into him”. 
- von Balthasar 

Now we can fall down into our pain, into the truth of who we are, and find him there. 

A group of doctors from Boston went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.  A young woman oncologist told the story of being totally overwhelmed by the situation in a very primitive tent hospital.  There was a seemingly endless barrage of impossible medical traumas, and they were without proper medicines or instruments.  At one point she became paralysed by her helplessness and fear.  She was just then at the bedside of a little boy, whose leg had been amputated a few days earlier.  It was all too much.  Suddenly unable to function any longer, she began sobbing uncontrollably, her face hidden in her hands.  It was then that this little fellow about six or seven years old, saw her tears and her trembvling and with a smile lifted his head from his pillow and encouraged her to move on to some other kids nearby whom he knew needed her attention more than he did. And remarkably she found she was able to do so.  In that moment the power of death, the horror and hopelessness and fear was broken open.  In the little boy she witnessed the triumph of love over pain and fear.

[St.Joseph Abbey, Spencer, MA]

Reflect on the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958) by clicking HERE.

ST BERNARD

Here is my philosophy: very subtle, very secret.  It is to know Jesus and Jesus crucified.  [Sermon 43, 4 on the Song of Songs]

  • Good Friday evening:when the Liturgy is over
  • How do you rise into gentleness?
  • Where is Peace?
  • Go to Galilee, to the sea

In our gospels, Jesus was taken down hastily from the cross, some time before sundown on the Preparation Day before Passover.  It was a rushed, temporary, initial burial.  Joseph of Arimathea stored his body in an unfinished rock-hewn tomb that happened to be close to the place of his crucifixion.  He closed it up to prevent predators.  He intended to have the traditional Jewish rites of burial completed after Passover/Sabbath.  The women were prepared – anxious - to perform these rites, as soon as possible after Sabbath.

Meantime, just after sundown, the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem (swollen by tens of thousands of pilgrim visitors) gathered in family groups to eat the Passover meal.  It was a joyous affair.   But Jesus’ core followers were in despair.  They had scattered at his arrest the night before.  We are not told if or how they observed Passover.  How could you have a Passover meal without a Passover?  Our gospels tell us nothing of that evening or of the following day.  What could they say?  A dead Messiah is no Messiah.  There is no coming kingdom.  After that, what?

There are two different stories embedded in the texts, about what happened next.

The most familiar and loved one tells of Mary Magdalen and a group of women visiting the tomb early Sunday morning before daybreak to complete the burial rites.  They find the tomb open and empty.  The enclosing stone already rolled away. They flee in fear.  Jesus meets them. They come to believe he must have been raised from the dead. They don’t understand what that means. Later that evening, he appears bodily to the gathered group of disciples, proving to them that he is indeed risen.  Easter becomes a triumph, a recovery of faith, a rejoicing greater than that of Passover.  There are witnesses to this.  A young man, or was it two young men, at the tomb. And the women…

There is an alternative story.  It has no appearances of Jesus.

This is in Mark.  Mark’s original text ended abruptly in 16,8 (the further text in our gospels was either lost or added on later by another hand or two).   The women are scared out of their minds.  They are absolutely afraid, but… They and through them the men disciples are told to meet Jesus in Galilee.  It is quite a journey from Jerusalem, especially for those who are grieving…Perhaps a week or two, or even more….Will he be there if they go?  If he is risen, why is the first thing he does is go to Galilee?  Is Galilee where risen people go and live?  In Peace?  In pace, in idipsum, dormiam et requiescam?  It is impossible to translate the sense of that.  Into reality itself (a translation of in idipsum?), in and through the sleep of dying, it is the entrée into Peace. 

It is much the same in the (apocryphal) Gospel of Peter.  It reads:

Now it was the final day of the Unleavened Bread (seven days after Passover) and many went out returning to their home since the feast was over.  But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and sorrowful; and each one, sorrowful because of what had come to pass, departed to his home.  But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. 

According to this story, they had all spent the full week of Passover in Jerusalem.  They had no appearances of Jesus.  They had no faith in a resurrection.  It was all over.   It is said that Ireland is where the sense of loss is most palpable.  I think it must have been Jerusalem, at the Passover. 

The recovery of faith, and the beginning of new faith in the rise one, took place not in Jerusalem but in Galilee.  It came from a vision, there, of the glorified Jesus.  Paul reports this in 1 Cor 15.  Paul is the earliest and best source for a spiritual understanding  of resurrection, rather than one naively modelled on a resuscitation of a corpse.

From the living Jesus, peace has come….He is our Peace.