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Homily for Good Friday

Last night we re-lived the experience of Christ washing the disciples’ feet, His command of service, His institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood at the Last Supper, and then His journey to the garden of Gethsemane.  Today, we live in a more profound way, the Crucifixion.

 

Christ is abandoned by most of His own:  most of the apostles fled when He was arrested; one betrayed Him; another denied Him; St John, Our Lady, and a few of the women disciples remain.  Those who are missing symbolise also the waywardness of humanity, a bit like the words we heard in the first reading:  “We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way” – it’s too hard, we’re scared, and so we go off and do something easier instead.

 

In the Gospel reading on Tuesday, we had the contrast between the two figures of Judas and Peter.  Judas leaves to go out into the night to betray the Lord; Peter affirms his enthusiasm, saying he is prepared even to die for the Lord, but he is told those famous words:  “before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times”, words that turn out to be true.  Both Peter and Judas need forgiveness, but it’s only Peter who seeks it out. 

 

Today, Our Lord makes that forgiveness possible by dying for us.  As He carries His Cross, suffers the agony of crucifixion and dies, He doesn’t complain, saying:  “Stupid people.  After all I have done for them!  You would have thought they would have shown some gratitude.  I don’t know why I bother.”  No, He’s not like that.  Rather, He holds in His mind the words from the first reading:  “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself”.  He won’t be able to save everyone, but for that group of people referred to as “many”, it is worth it.  His heart desires our salvation. So He was “letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners”.  In Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, one of the main figures from the Jewish priesthood insults Christ on the Cross, challenging Him to come down from the Cross.  Jesus replies:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and the good thief says, look, he is praying for you.  Regardless of who we are, Chief Priests or not, that is what Christ does for us.  We pay Him insults, we sin against Him, but He prays on our behalf, “Father, forgive!”

 

In the second reading, things are unpacked further.  Just as the Jewish priests in the past offered sacrifices for the forgiveness of human sins, so Christ, as the supreme high priest, enters heaven by His Death to intercede on our behalf.  He can do that as God.  As man, He has experienced the human condition; He knows what it is like to be tempted, although He Himself is without sin.  Therefore He understands from the inside what we go through; we can have confidence when we pray to Him that our prayer won’t be dismissed.  “Let us be confident then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help … he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation”.

 

Shortly, we will have the chance to venerate the Cross.  In this act, it is as if we have gone back in time and are able to pay our homage to Christ on the Cross.  However we honour Him, whether by a genuflection, kissing the wood of the cross, or the feet of Christ, after all the insults He received on Golgotha, and all the insults He receives today, we help to make up for that by our acts of love.  We show that we are immensely grateful for all He did for us.  And His Death spurs us on to change our lives.  Is there some fault or failing we have?  Something in our past that we regret?  An act, word, deed, or failure that we wouldn’t want now to repeat?  We bring it all to the Lord, and lay it at His feet.  And later on, after today’s liturgy has concluded, there is the chance for individual confession, to really tap into that source of forgiveness which is the Cross, and to be bathed in that blood and water flowing from the side of Christ, the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments.

 

There’s a lot there for us all to think about.  But perhaps it can be condensed into this traditional prayer:  “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world”.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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