GOOD FRIDAY – 2010
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16+5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
“When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.”
My brothers and sisters, the whole mystery of salvation is contained in this one simple verse of John’s Gospel. All our Lenten preparations, all the beauty and pathos of Holy Week, all the sorrow and anguish of the way of the Cross culminates in these few words. They are the apogee of our celebration of the Sacred Triduum. This is to take nothing away from the joy that will be ours when the Paschal Candle is lit tomorrow night and we proclaim “Christ our Light” and sing our rousing Paschal Prokeimenon. In our human way of living in time, moment by moment, we must separate events and as good disciples of St Thomas, distinguish and counter distinguish. But for St John, this is the source and summit. He sees in Jesus dying on the Cross, both death and resurrection. Jesus on the Cross is where he is glorified. For what is the glory of Jesus for St John? Is it not the complete gift of himself in love? Is it not when he totally hands himself over to us, holding nothing back? Is it not when he finishes the work the Father has given him and returns to the Father? “Greater love than this no one has than to give up life for one’s friends.” “When I am lifted up,” he said, “I will draw all to myself.” Or again, “The Spirit was not yet, for Jesus had not yet been glorified.” The work is finished – not so much in the sense that it is over and done and now there awaits rest and reward and ecstatic enjoyment. No, but in the sense that it is fulfilled, it is completed, it is whole. The first Reconciliation Eucharistic Prayer captures it perfectly: “He stretched out his arms on the Cross, in the everlasting sign of your covenant.” This is Jesus’ glory. Jesus always bears the marks of the nails and the lance. Only John gives us this detail – showing the disciples the wounds he still carries when he appears to them on Easter Sunday. And in John’s Book of Revelation we see “the Lamb standing as it were slain.”
Please understand aright. The resurrection is not just an add-on. Redemption is not just won or attained or accomplished by Jesus‘ death on the Cross. The Paschal Mystery is one event, with three stages: the suffering, the death, and the resurrection.
But we have to enter St John’s mind. Throughout the long Gospel we have just had proclaimed, unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John portrays Jesus as being in complete control. “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” to the utmost, to its complete fulfillment. When the soldiers came to the Garden to arrest him they fell to the ground at the voice of Jesus. Before Pilate he was the picture of serenity. “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” In John alone we are told that Jesus carries his own cross, he needs no help. And from that cross/throne, Jesus commends his disciple – us, the Church – to his mother. Finally, in the words with which we started, Jesus declares it is now finished, completed, fulfilled. He then bows his head, very simply and very deliberately, and hands over the Spirit.
This, of course, is the ultimate use of the Greek word we are using as our lens to view the Paschal Mystery this year. To ask our famous questions: Who hands over, what is handed over, and to whom is it handed over?
The who and the what are easy. Jesus, in both instances. But to whom? You know, I have always thought it was to us – and have preached this in the past. And it very may well be. It has so many parallels in the Gospel to recommend it. Perhaps I make a false dichotomy, but as I have pondered this mystery of the paradidomi, of the handing over, during these last couple of months, I am more inclined to say it is to the Father. Jesus has finished, completed his work and now is able to return to the Father. His whole life, as seen in St John’s Gospel, is this journey from the Father to the world and then back to the Father, bringing us. Having accomplished the work the Father sent him to do, he now hands over his life, his work, his spirit back to the Father. And that is why he continues to bear the wounds and why Jesus with outstretched arms on the Cross is the everlasting sign of God’s covenant love. As John put it in his Prologue: “No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, who is ever turned towards the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
Whenever we stand before the Cross, whenever we kneel before the Cross, today as we kiss the relic of the true Cross, let us see in it the full revelation of God. No other revelation has been granted to us. And that God is, as Father Louis – Thomas Merton – so poetically put it over fifty years ago, very simply “mercy within mercy within mercy.”
May this revelation penetrate the depths of our hearts.