Solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday), Year A 2023 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 30(31):2,6,12-13,15-17,25; Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
What a sombre and tragic account of the passion of Jesus that we have just listened to! How can it be called Good Friday when there does not seem to be anything good but betrayal, cruelty, hatred, mob hysteria, scapegoating, killing and innocent death? It shows human nature at its worst.
The crowds who acclaimed him before now turn against him. His closest circle of friends who vowed to stay by him desert him. His enemies succeed in their conspiracy against him. As Jesus hangs on the cross, we have a sense that dream has been turned into nightmare; hope into disillusionment and optimism into delusion. His final cry on the cross says it all “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” This totally unexpected ending seems an unmitigated disaster. The crucifixion appears to be a colossal failure for Jesus and a warning for those who put their trust in God. So, what is good about today?
However, as we listen more deeply, we begin to catch a glimpse into the depths of God’s revelation precisely at the moment of utter vulnerability. It is through the cross that the greatest love was revealed. It was not evil that had the upper hand. It was God’s unflinching fidelity, his unconditional love for the world in Jesus that brought about the triumph of love over hatred, good over evil.
With the eye of faith, we can recognise the true meaning of Good Friday. For this was the hour of glory that Jesus had spoken about; this was the climax to the life of a humble Messiah who came to serve and not to be served; the prophet who resisted all forms of evil; and the supreme high priest who made himself completely like us in our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
The Gospel story presents a stark contrast between the imperial model represented by Pilate and the kingdom vision of Jesus. It was a dramatic scene. Pilate mounts on his throne was totally in control and the epitome of worldly power. Jesus on the other hand is totally powerless and vulnerable. His hands are bound, his head is crowned with thorns and the purple mantle is a mockery of his kingship. The scene is a striking contrast of power and vulnerability, prestige and wretchedness, fame and ignominy, success and failure.
Yet there was something beyond the naked eye for those who discern the truth. Just as the dying Jesus assures the repentant thief of God’s eventual triumph, here the kingdom vision also shines through the darkness of hate, mob justice and hysteria. Here it is Jesus who judges and rejects Pilate’s imperial ideology built on violence, dominance and exclusion. “All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” These words express a vision of a Gospel community working towards the fulfilment of God’s plan for the world.
Dear brothers and sisters,
In a short while, we will venerate the cross which will be unveiled to remind us of the biblical unveiling at the moment of Jesus’ death. In fact, it is a custom in our Catholic tradition to have all images and icons covered during Holy Week. We suspend representations of the sacred because we want to focus on the ultimate revelation of God in Christ. The Gospel tells us that the veil of the temple was torn when Jesus breathed his last. It is a prophetic symbol that says God is no longer contained in the old temple or any other earthly means. The letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus goes through the curtain above to present his blood in the heavenly sanctuary. John’s Gospel puts it in another way “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know I am He”.
Jesus’ death on a cross, is truly the expression of the “wisdom of God”. God breaks the grip of scapegoating by stepping into the place of a victim. God is willing to die for us, to bear our sin because we desperately need deliverance from our propensity to violence. Jesus’ persecutors intend his death to be sacrificial business as usual. Instead, it has reset the cycle of human behaviour.
Good Friday, therefore, commits us to following Jesus’ footsteps. With him, there is no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love; no permission to secure my prosperity at the expense of another’s suffering and no excuse for not telling truth to power. Inspired by the example of Jesus the Suffering Servant, we must put the command to serve and to love one another and especially the most vulnerable among us at the heart of our society.
As we venerate the cross, let us live by its wisdom and power. Let us build a new future of humanity rooted in the reconciliation of Christ. May we be strengthened to walk humbly in the footsteps of the Master, who “through suffering became the source of our salvation.”
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