St Etheldreda's

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Es ist vollbracht!

Posted April 2, 2021

Good Friday 2021

While there is something dark and terrible about Good Friday as a manifestation of evil, we never forget that it is Good Friday.  It is the day when God overcame evil with goodness; the day when Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to perfection.  More than any other evangelist, St John (18:1–19:42) sees Jesus’ death in positive terms.  It  is all about majesty and enrichment.  Jesus’ cross becomes his throne (St John’s Passion narrative is shot through with the theme of kingship); Jesus’ being lifted up onto the cross is the visible silhouette of that movement by which he is being lifted up into the glory of his Father; his last cry is a cry of victory.  For what does consummatum est mean?  Not ‘it is finished’ in the sense we mean when we say: ‘It’s finished now: that’s an end to the suffering.’  It means, rather: ‘It is accomplished’, as in that moving aria in Bach’s St John Passion, so melancholy and yet so triumphant: Es ist vollbracht!  ‘The hero from Juda triumphs in his might!’  At the moment of his death Jesus’ life-task is brought to complete fulfilment.

This life-task Jesus has explained earlier when he said: ‘I came so that they might have life, and life in abundance.’  This ‘life in abundance’ is God’s own life.  Earlier in the Gospel, too, Jesus had said: ‘Just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself’, meaning: Jesus is the reservoir of God’s life.  And if Jesus is the reservoir of God’s life, then his death is the moment of sudden release.  Immediately there flowed out from his side blood and water.  The blood and the water flowing from Jesus’ side symbolize the life of the Blessed Trinity streaming out of the crucified into our world. 

Of course, all this does not mean that St John has lost sight of the ghastly aspects of Jesus’ death.  On the contrary, it is precisely because he has those aspects in mind too that he is able to present Jesus’ death with that irony and sense of paradox that is his distinguishing characteristic as an evangelist.  The ghastly aspects form St John’s subtext.  He knows, as well as St Paul knew, that ‘For our sakes Christ, being rich, became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich.’  Today we carry in our minds and hearts the triumph of the cross; and at the same time the human cost of it all: the pain and the loneliness and the degradation.  If we are flooded with God’s life, it is only because Jesus emptied himself.  If we are clothed in all the glory of heaven, it is only because Jesus embraced the nakedness of the cross.  It is the cruel, bare wood of the cross that we venerate today, even while we are flooded with the majesty and the enrichment of it all.  Oh what a joy this is, that we have such a wealth of beauty, such phenomenal hope, in a world that is offering us more and more every day, and every day delivering to us less and less, and still blind to its moral vacuity.

Let us bear in mind also that Good Friday is not just a drama that takes place ‘out there’, but one in which each one of us is involved personally.  Jesus did not embrace the cross for the sake of some abstract cause.  He did not die for an ideology.  He died for love of me and you. ‘Christ loved me‘, St Paul says, ‘and delivered himself for me.’  This is the day above all other days when you are invited to recall and to feel once again in your guts that Jesus loved you.  Don’t imagine that this man did not love you with a completely human and therefore very painful act of self-giving, just because he was also divine; or that he does not long for your love in return, with a very human longing.  To be personally grabbed by Jesus’ very costly love for you, that is the spirit of Good Friday.  That is the key to Christian piety down the ages.  That and that alone is our point of access to all that loveliness, to all that enrichment, to all that life in abundance that St John wants to celebrate throughout his Gospel.

Although we cannot kiss the cross physically today because of current restrictions, still, come to venerate the cross in your hearts;  kiss the cross in your inward being; come with renewed love and heartfelt gratitude.  It is your name that is being called today, just as later in the garden Jesus startles the grieving woman with the single word: Mary! 

Our Lord will be thrilled to see you embrace his cross today – wherever you are coming from, whatever failings, and sins and perhaps betrayals, mark your path: whatever weight of the old humanity you still labour under.  Come to him with new purpose in your heart, for it was you he loved; it is for your love and for your faithfulness that he thirsts; it is you that he wants to accompany him in his return to the Father. 

‘Behold the wood of the cross, upon which hung the salvation of the word!  Come, let us adore.’

Fr Tom Deidun

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