We celebrate today my dear brothers and sisters, what is traditionally known as Good Friday. And it would seem strange first of all that we celebrate the day on which Jesus died, and stranger still that we consider such a day Good. What really is the reason why we celebrate? And why is the day on which Jesus died called “Good”? The answer to both these questions can only be found if we focus as all the Evangelists and especially John has done on the Passion and death of our Lord from the perspective of the Resurrection. Because if Christ were not resurrected, if he were not raised from the dead, his death would have no meaning, his death would have been the end. But it is only because he rose again, that his death took on a new meaning, a meaning that death never possessed before. It is in the light of the resurrection therefore that we must look at the death of Christ and what it means for us today … and yet, we must remember that the Passion and Death of Jesus were indeed historical events, that Jesus had to suffer and die. That Jesus had to go through the ignominy of the cross before his resurrection.
In yesterday’s liturgy, the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, we witnessed how in a very symbolic way Jesus brought his whole life together by giving to his disciples two important symbols – the washing of the feet and the breaking and sharing of bread and wine. These two powerful symbols were his way of showing them that on the one hand their lives too had to be lives of service and reaching out just as his life had been, and on the other hand that they must be lives in community, lives in union with each other, lives not as individuals, but as a group of people all moving toward God. And on the day on which he died, the day following the last supper, Jesus made those symbols a reality. He not only symbolically washed his disciples’ feet and shared not just bread and wine, but rather his very self, his very being, his very life. And what is more important is that he gave his life willingly. This going to his death willingly, was in a way a summary of his whole life, a bringing together of his whole life, a life which had always been a life of giving, a life of sharing, a life for others, a life of love. Besides being narrated so beautifully for us in the Gospel of John that we just heard, it is also narrated equally beautifully in the Song of the Suffering Servant from the book of Isaiah that we heard as our first reading. This song though written 550 years before Jesus was never really understood till the Passion and Death of Jesus. When Isaiah uses the double expression, “that which has not been told” and “which they have never heard”, he is not repeating himself, but rather intends to bring to our attention how incredible, how incomprehensible the whole mystery is. The whole thought of the people of that time, their world would have been turned upside down. He was a man of sorrows and grief because he bore our own sorrows and grief. In the face of violence from those who despised him, he submitted willingly. Not only did people pay no attention to him, they positively despised him, rejected him and yet the man to whom they refused fellowship was truly one of them. We are told my dear brothers and sisters, through the Song of the Suffering Servant that God protects and saves not through war like aggressiveness, but through humility. Redemption is through the mystery of suffering. We must be confident therefore even in the midst of suffering because Jesus himself experienced trials and tribulations, suffering and ignominy, and is thus able to share with us our own. The priest of the Old Testament, as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews offers sacrifices other than himself for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offers his very self. Jesus became the High priest through the mystery of his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Exaltation. Since he gave his life for others, his Father gave him back his own life. Jesus died believing that the Father would raise him on the third day and He did.
And this is why we celebrate today, and this is why the day on which Jesus died is called Good.
In view of all this what is the relevance for me today? What does Good Friday mean for me now, here, in my situation? In answering these questions I must point out first of all how difficult it is to understand how we can be so moved at the Passion of our Lord, and oblivious to the Passion of our next door neighbour. It is difficult to understand how we can shed tears at the suffering and death of Jesus, and not be moved one bit at the anguish and suffering of our brothers and sisters around us. It is difficult to understand how we can look up at the cross of Christ and be overcome with pity and shame, but untouched by the numerous crosses that we see people carrying everyday. The relevance of Good Friday lies in being able to see Christ crucified today. We can only do this if our lives are modelled on the life of Christ, lives that are lived for others. To live for others means first of all that we have to forget ourselves, that we have to get rid of the Ego, the I, that we have to think of others before we think of ourselves. The Israelites of old were called as we heard yesterday to be a contrast community, a chosen people, a nation set apart. We are called to be that contrast community today, not in the way that we dress, in the food that we eat or in the language we speak, but rather through our way of proceeding, in our way of behaving, in our way of being, in our way of love. Christ is calling us today not so much to die for him, but to live for him. Are you willing to live for Christ?
Let us pray then as we unveil the cross of Christ in a few moments from now that our celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus will transform our lives into lives that resemble his, so that like Jesus, we too in our own ways may be men and women for others. It is only in this context that suffering and pain and death take on a new meaning as they did in the life of Christ. Amen.