Homily for Good Friday Year ABC: Fr. Michael UdoekpoReadings: Isa 52: 13–53:12; Ps 31:2,6,12-13,15-16,17,25; Heb 4:14-16;5:7-9; John18:1–19:42
The Mystery of Redemptive Suffering (Good Friday)
Today’s redemptive celebration, no doubts, has ironic features that only faith and reason can heal. What makes today’s Friday good? What is good about the symbolic red vestments priests and deacons, wear today, at the beginning of the liturgy? What is good about the altars left completely bare, without a crosses, without candles and without fanciful altar cloths? What is good that the Holy Mass, sacraments are not celebrated today, except for penance and anointing of the sick, are legitimates questions?
Answers to these questions are not single dimensional. The meaning of “Good Friday” may be found when we deeply and faithfully meditate on the crosses we shall soon venerate. Its meaning may be revealed through our meditation on the stations of the cross re-enacted across the global church. Still its meaning may be revealed through the writings of the Church Fathers, Encyclicals and Apostolic Letters of various Popes.For example, John Paul II in his 1979 Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man, n.8) wrote: “The redeemer of the world! In him has been revealed in a new and more wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation to which the Book of Genesis gives witness when it repeats several times: “God saw that it was good. [The “Good Friday”] The good has its source in Wisdom and Love. In Jesus Christ the visible world which God created for man–the world that, when sin entered [hatred, jealousy, false accusations, oppression of the poor, corruption, illnesses, ebola, poverty, death, etc], “was subjected to futility”– recovers again in its original link with the divine source of Wisdom and Love. Indeed, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” that whoever believes in him should not perish but may have eternal life. In his 1984 Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, On the Meaning of Human Suffering (n.14), John Paul II insisted that, “these words spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very heart of God’s salvific work,” which leads him to the Cross of Good Friday!
That Good Friday is redemptive and salvific is more revealing in the passages of today’s Scripture Readings, beginning with Isaiah’s 4th song of the suffering servant of God (Isa 52:13–53:12) which says,
“He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed… he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses”( Isa 53:4-12).The Letter to the Hebrews also reveals the salvific nature Good Friday when it says, “In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when he was made perfect, he became source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” And we heard one of those Jesus’ humble loud cries into today’s responsorial Psalm, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit “(Ps 31; Luke 23:46), repeated during every night prayers, during the liturgy of the hours.
Finally, what makes today’s Friday, good, saving, victorious and redemptive, is particularly, and perhaps more comprehensively revealed in the passion theology of John’s Gospel (John 18–19), familiar to us.
Throughout the Johannine Passion, Jesus “yet” is control. He gives Judas Iscariot instruction to do quickly what he is about to do (John 18:2). In the garden of the Kidron Valley, Jesus asked whom they were looking for. As soon as he declared himself- the “I AM”, they all felt helplessly to the ground. Here lies the Good Friday?In all, the Jesus of John is the Son of Man that came down from heaven to whom the Father has turned over judgment. When he is interrogated by the high priests, Jesus turns back the interrogation: “Why do you question me?” He makes it clear to Pilate that he has no authority over him. Throughout his ironic trials, Pilates is nervous and shuttles back and forth between the Jews outside the praetorium and Jesus, ironically, rather is inside the Praetorium. The shuttling Pilates finds no guilt in the innocent and steady Jesus, yet he had him scourged innocently, and Pilate lacks the courage to speak the truth. In John, only Christ is the truth, the life and the way!
Jesus dies kingly and triumphantly in John. His title- “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews,” is universally written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) on top of his Cross. It is a universal Good Friday! A Friday that saves the world? Even though his garments are divided as foretold, his priestly tunic, the alb is intact, a priest forever! As long foretold, that on being lifted up he would draw many to himself, on the foot of the cross, came the fulfilment (tetelestai): Mary his mother, the sister, wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom he love, Roman soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, and secrete believers like Nichodemus, Joseph of Arimathea were all there! Jesus is also given a kingly burial and laid in a garden!This is the narrative that has really made Good Friday, good and redemptive. Today the victim has become the conqueror! As Pope Francis has repeated emphasized, it is a gospel of suffering endurance for all who have in the course of history been persecuted and abused by those who are politically, socially, religiously and economically powerful, plagued by diseases, natural tragedies, man-made violent structures, abuse of guns, ISIS, BOKO Haram, poverty, ignorance, but who realize that God is with them, and that the power of the oppressors are temporary.
Good Friday is good, since believers in Christ, those begotten by God(1 John 5:4), who suffer and endure patiently with him, in all circumstances, have eternal life. This why John Paul II insisted (in his Salvifici Doloris- On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) that, “The cross [redemptive cross] of Christ [which we celebrate today] throws light in a most penetrating way, on man’s life and in particular on his suffering. Through faith the cross reaches man together with resurrection: the mystery of the passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery.” That is to say, “the witnesses of Christ’s passion [today] are at the same time witnesses of His resurrection (come Easter)!