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Homilies from St Etheldreda's

Good Friday: That they might have life

Posted March 29, 2013

The blood and water that flowed from our Saviour’s side recall several earlier passages in St John’s Gospel: We remember the blood of Jesus that is ‘real drink’.  We remember the ‘rivers of living water’ that would flow from the belly of the Messiah; and the spring of water ‘leaping up into eternal life’ that Jesus promised to the woman at the well, so that ‘she would never thirst again’.  We remember the sap that vivifies the branches of the vine and makes them bear fruit, fruit that will last.  Perhaps we remember also other passages of Scripture, such as the verses from the prophet Ezekiel that speak of the water flowing from the new, heavenly temple, which God himself will build: water that becomes an abundant river irrigating the parched soil and bringing forth life wherever it goes.  In a word, the blood and water that flows from the Saviour’s side symbolizes the accomplishment of Jesus’ mission, as he explained it earlier in the Gospel:  ‘I came so that they might have life, and life in abundance.’  Jesus is the sole reservoir of God’s boundless life, and Jesus’ death is the moment of release.

That is why today is Good Friday.  All the richness of our salvation is there, all the beauty of our religion, all our hopes for the future.  As you will have gathered, St John sees Jesus’ death as inseparably linked with the Ascension and Pentecost.  They form one life-giving mystery.  Jesus’ being lifted up physically onto the cross is the visible silhouette of his being lifted up into the glory of his Father; Jesus’ cross is transformed into a throne; his last cry (‘It is accomplished!’) is a cry of victory; his last breath, when he ‘handed over the spirit’ (as St John’s Greek has it), is his breathing of the Holy Spirit into the Church.  The blood and water that immediately flowed out of Jesus’ side is the urgent, life-giving richness of God’s Spirit poured out into the world.

But if St John superimposes the Ascension and Pentecost upon Jesus’ death, and gives us, as it were, Good Friday and Ascension Day and Pentecost all rolled into one, still, today being Good Friday, it would be good to unroll them, lest we lose sight of Good Friday’s special character.   For Good Friday has a focus all of its own, a special truth for us to respond to.

It is a truth which St John himself does not emphasize, because he is so concerned to tell us that the cross is about majesty and enrichment.  But it is brought out very powerfully by the other Evangelists, especially by St Mark.  And outside the Evangelists, it is brought out most powerfully by St Paul.  It is a truth expressed by St Paul in the words: ‘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 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 the glory of heaven, it is only because Jesus embraced the nudity of the cross.  It is the cruel, bare wood of the cross that we kiss today.

Today let us remember, and not just remember but experience as if for the first time, that Jesus died for love of me and you as individuals, not for mankind in the abstract.  ‘Christ loved me‘, St Paul says, ‘and gave himself up for me.’   This is the day above all other days when Jesus loved you.  Don’t imagine he did not love you with a completely human and therefore very costly 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.  His  thirst on the cross is a thirst for your soul, for your affection and your devotion.  To be personally touched by Jesus’ love for you, that is the spirit of Good Friday, as it is also 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 abundance of life that is symbolized by St John’s blood and water.

When you come to venerate the cross today, come with renewed love and sincere gratitude in your heart.  It is your name that is being called today, just as later in the garden Jesus startles and thrills the grieving Mary of Magdala with the single word: Mary!

Our Lord will be very happy to see you approaching him today, wherever you are coming from, whatever failings and sins mark your path.  Come to him with new purpose in your heart, for it is for your love and faithfulness that he thirsts.  ‘Behold the wood of the cross!  Come, let us adore.’

Fr Tom Deidun

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