Good Friday - The Passion of the Lord
Isaiah 52:13—53:12 + Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 + John 18:1-19,42
Every year this Holy Week is celebrated as the central time of the Christian year. We set aside time from our normal routines to journey with Our Lord Jesus: with Him on Palm Sunday as He triumphally enters into Jerusalem; with Him on Holy Thursday as He celebrates His Last Supper; and again with Him today as He suffers and dies for us, so that we might have the chance to live with Him in Heaven. Each of these days holds a special place in our hearts.
This is only natural, since when you love someone, certain days become anniversaries, days that are remembered each year. Whether it’s the day that two spouses exchange vows with each other, the day a child is born into the world, or even the day on which a loved one leaves this earth, submitting to the power of death, certain days become ingrained in our minds as “holy days.”
Likewise, just as we have times which we celebrate each year, either together as a Church or individually within our families or with another person, there are also certain places which we consider as having special significance to us. Whether it’s a locale where two persons meet, a church where a person is baptized or confirmed or married, or even a spot where a favorite vacation was spent, certain places become remembered in our hearts as “sacred spaces.”
We began this week by entering with Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was both like Washington, D.C. and the Vatican are for us: Jerusalem was the center of the nation of Israel, and the center of their Jewish religion. Jesus’ entrance into the city was a sort of national and religious homecoming: all sorts of Jews waved palm branches in front of Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem, because they believed He would be a Messiah who would free them from every sort of problem in their lives.
But as the week wore off, most of these people deserted Jesus. When Jesus cleansed the Temple and then said that he would raise the Temple in three days after it was destroyed, many began to doubt why they had ever put faith in Jesus.
By the time of the Last Supper, the apostles were some of the few people left who had kept the faith. And so, on that Holy Thursday, Jesus gathered those apostles with in an upper room within the walls of Jerusalem, in order to share with them the Passover meal, through which He gave them the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament by which His Body and Blood might always remain with them. And yet, even among those twelve apostles there was one who betrayed him, who left the Last Supper in order to arrange Jesus’ arrest.
And so, as today’s gospel passage begins, the Last Supper has just ended, and we see Jesus going with the remaining disciples to the Garden of Gethsemani, a place which was familiar to Judas… because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. This garden was very likely where Jesus had taught much to his disciples, a peaceful spot where Jesus formed the apostles into men after his own Sacred Heart. As God had formed the first humans, Adam and Eve, in a garden called Eden, here in Gethsemani the Son of God formed the men who would be his apostles. And yet, just as the first parents betrayed in Eden the free will God had given them, here in Gethsemani one of those apostles betrayed by a kiss the teachings Jesus had given them.
But what is most striking about the scene in Gethsemani is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles. Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John, who the Scriptures call the disciple whom Jesus loved. They follow Jesus, bound and carried away from the soldiers, at a distance: their faith is wavering. And we know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.
It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus. It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary. We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not understand the death of his Master. He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary.
We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John. It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning. And throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made. Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were most clearly revealed.
And through the Eucharist which Christ had given John the power to celebrate for the sake of others, Saint John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.
There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday, and yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice. As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.