Good Friday – March 31st, 1972 – CNR
This service in celebration of the Lord’s Passion unites the several aspects of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The text from Isaiah gives the classic description of “the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,'” “the lamb led to the slaughter,” bearing our infirmities, enduring our sufferings. With the 21st Psalm, it is the chief Old Testament text for a Christian’s meditations on the sufferings of the Lord Jesus.
The Liturgy refuses, however, to indulge in moaning recollection of Jesus’ suffering. St. John’s account of the Passion is read, and in no other is it so apparent that Jesus is the active one, not a reluctant victim, but a king who knows fully his hour has come to pass from this world to the Father, a king who has come into the world to testify to the truth, a king who is not ironically but really “the King od the Jews.” And that perspective is taken up by the hymns in veneration of the cross: “We worship you, Lord, we adore your cross and praise your resurrection: for through the cross you have brought joy to the world.” The instrument of disgrace and torture has become the victory-banner of a triumphant procession.
Finally, there is the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the description of our high priest, able to sympathize with our sufferings, because he himself was tempted in all things. And this is to present the priestly dimension of the cross, Christ’s death not an execution but a sacrifice, the pouring of the blood which has cleansed us of our sin, the blood which Christ presents to his Father in the heavenly sanctuary, where he lives forever to make intercession for us. And union with that priestly prayer of Jesus the Church seeks through the general intercessions we make, the oldest form of the prayer of the faithful, our attempt to speak out the needs and desires of the people purchased by Christ’s sacrifice.
It is to all these dimensions of Christ’s passion that the Church seeks to reach communion, through the bread he broke with his disciples, the bread that is his Body, broken for us, raised from the dead, the center and principle of the life we possess as his Church. By our faith and love let the bread of the Eucharist we receive now be the reception of the full blessings of our crucified King and Priest.
Good Friday – April 12, 1974 – CNR
The mood of the Church’s worship today is solemn, even severe, but it is not mournful. Isaiah may tell us in prophecy of the sufferings of the just man, but before and after he tells us that this “servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted,” that “if he give his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” If the letter to the Hebrews speaks of the high priest who can sympathize with our own weakness, having been tempted in every way, of his having offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God, it also says that “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
But it is in John’s Passion-account that the triumph of Christ is especially emphasized. Though he stands on trial, though he is condemned to death in a judicial procedure, still Jesus is throughout the King of the Jews; he himself is the judge; and his condemnation is the judgement of those who condemn him. His last breath on the cross is the handing over of the Spirit, and from his body, surrendered to death, flows forth the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist.
Let us take our own spirit of prayer from the mood of the liturgy. Let us not listen to the voices of condemnation and the cries of derision, but to his voice who said, “Father, forgive them,” “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Let us not gather in mourning, but in quiet triumph: “We worship you, Lord, we venerate your cross and praise your resurrection, because by the wood of the cross you have brought joy into the world.? Let us not regret an execution, but give thanks for a sacrifice. Let us not think of hate and injustice, but of love and forgiveness. So praying, we may expect once again to receive from the Lord’s death the Spirit of life and freedom, the new creation of God’s wisdom revealed in folly, of his power effective in weakness.
Good Friday–April 16, 1976–CNR
In these holy days we are attending upon the central mysteries of Christianity, which means, of course, that we attend upon the mysteries of our own lives. There is a double movement here, then, of our God towards us and of ourselves towards our God. And this day’s mystery is that the Cross of Jesus Christ is the centering symbol in which is concentrated what is in the end the one great and mysterious reality of the love of God for man.
The Cross stands first as the symbol of man’s impotence and frustration. It is a symbol of our pain and death, of the human lot in a world of suffering. But it also is a sign of our sinfulness, of our concessions to irrationality and surrender to the absurd. At the hour of Christ’s death, the dark cloud of our pain and sin fall heaviest upon the earth.
But it is at that very moment that the Cross is also a symbol of God’s love. “The Word became flesh” is the great pronouncement with whioh St. John’s Gospel opens, and the crucifixion is the final depths of God’s enfleshment. To this point has the Word spoken in the flesh that he has used this deepest of human groans to speak his word of revelation, of truth and of grace. What was by our efforts a symbol of our futility and infidelity becomes by Christ’s obedience the symbol of God’s faithful love and enduring power. And so the Cross becomes the symbol of joy because man’s dark sin is not stronger than God’s bright forgiving love/
That is what we celebrate today in these simple but profound rites. Let us continue them now, repentant of our sins and failures but rejoicing in God’s forgiving acceptance of our poor, weak and uncomprehending selves. And out of whatever depths of pain or ignorance or anger or pride or fear let us speak in quiet joy our thanksgiving to God that he has not left us alone in our lot, but, sharing it, has transformed it for his glory and our life.
Good Friday–April 8, 1977–CNR
The Scriptural readings today have their own power, and there is no point to many words from any preacher. Let us simply enter into the movement of God’s mercy which they express, from the days of Israel down to our own day as we gather in faith and thanksgiving to God who has so loved us.
Israel’s faith let us hear and join in the mysterious figure of the Suffering Servant, in whom first is foreshadowed a Messiah and Lord who does not come in what we would call triumph, but in weakness and pain, not only sharing our lot, but bearing away its infirmities and guilt and taking away our sins. A figure no longer so mysterious to us for whom Jesus Christ has by his sufferings won pardon and justification.
In the Passion of the Lord, let us hear, not of the resisted execution of an unfortunate, but of that revolutionary trial in which the condemned is the Judge and the crucified the King, in which a cross becomes a throne, in which death gives rise to life, as from the side of Christ flow the sacraments of water and blood in which we the Church are given birth and sustained.
And this day and every day, let us acknowledge that “we do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned;” who lives eternally to intercede for us, to be the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, in whom we may confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need.
Let us praise all these blessings as we venerate the cross on which they were won for us; and before this throne of grace let us beg God’s mercy and favor on Christ’s Church and its ministers, on those who prepare to enter the Church, on those Christians who are not part of our communion, on the first people of the covenant, on those who have not yet found God in Christ, on those who serve in public office, on the sick and the dying, the imprisoned, the hungry, those who are not in the truth. Our sisters and brothers are they all: let us bring them with us when we make our plea for the Lord’s good mercy on us, that the cross of Christ again in and among us be the source of life, of hope, of truth, of health, of love, of communion.