By Charles Madu, SJ
Readings: Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Ps 31; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Today, called Great Friday, Good Friday, Holy Friday or Black Friday. Christians all over the word commemorate the excruciating death of the son of God on the cross. On this day, in union with the universal Church, we watch, we see Him, we accompany Jesus as he suffers and gives up his life for love of us. Reflecting on what today is all about, I will like to introduce my reflection with Pope Benedict’s words: “everything belongs to God, but to man is lent, freedom to say yes or no, the freedom to love or to reject; love is free, yes is the only thing of which God must wait.” And for Pope Francis, in one of his general audiences, he said, “Living Holy Week means increasingly entering into God’s logic, the logic of the Cross, which is not first of all that of pain and death, but of love and self-giving that brings life.”
What we commemorate today my friends is not pain, suffering, dejection, betrayal or death, we celebrate God’s faithfulness, His inexhaustible mercies and above all, God’s immeasurable love for us His children. By this selfless act, Jesus points to the person of God the Father who does not only kisses away our sins into everlasting forgetfulness, but who also takes upon Himself our sins and their consequences.
God never ceases to love His own
How tough it is to even begin to imagine the pain Jesus experienced on this day. As we think of Christ’s passion, there are a thousand and one images and questions that come to mind. Words sometimes fail us. Emotions boils up to the surface and take charge of us. This happens either because we cannot imagine why God will allow His Son pass through such pain or we consider ourselves ‘unworthy’ of such sacrifice. But we forget that God never ceases to love His own regardless of our dispositions.
During difficult times, especially now that we are faced with one of the deadliest epidemics of all time, we ask existential questions such as: “why does God not put a stop to this? Why is God quiet while people are dying every day?” Today, we might as well ask, “Why God did not put a stop to Jesus’ suffering and save Him from death?” Like cancer and other illnesses, death on a cross was death by prolonged cruelty. The abandonment, drilling of hands and feet with nails, the exposure to burning sun or bitter cold, the humiliation of mocking crowds, the near-impossible strain of lifting the collapsed body to breathe, the physical frame becoming weaker, the mind becoming delirious. And this lasted a long time, maybe hours, maybe days.
What if death helps us to put God at the center of our life?
Moreover, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden is outstanding for its straightforward authenticity. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Here, Jesus teaches us that no human is comfortable with pain. My friends, we are free to ask God all sorts of questions. But before we begin to demand for God’s intervention, I want to ask us a question. “What if pain, sickness or death, is what it takes for us to put God at the center of our life?” In her book titled: It’s not About the Hair, Debra Jarvis, a cancer survivor’s response to outraged people who say “But you’re the chaplain! You should be immune!” is this: “So what if I’m the chaplain? I’m a Christian, the same faith that’s all about the crucifixion of the guy who is considered the Son of God! I mean if the Son of God can’t get a break, why should I? I’m only the chaplain.” My friends, no one has some special spiritual protection from sicknesses.
If this is what God wants of us, then, let us dig deep to find consolation that will take us through this tough times. Let this moment unite us with Christ who sacrificed everything for love. Only genuine love is capable of making us trust God completely, even when our life is at stake.
Jesus did not smile through suffering to death. He was actually heartbroken. Although the phenomenon of the gushing out of blood and water in (John 19:34) is traditionally considered as a miracle, but medical science sees it differently.
Medical Science has furnished an explanation which at once defines the phenomenon as a perfectly natural occurrence, and reveals somewhat of the awfulness of our Lord’s passion. It says that during Christ’s dread and mysterious dereliction on the cross, his heart swelled until it burst, and blood was effused into the distended sac of the pericardium, and afterwards separated as is usually the case with extravasated blood, into these two parts: 1) crassamentum or red clot, and 2) watery serum. When the distended sac was pieced from beneath, it discharged its sanguineous contents in the form of red clots of blood and a stream of watery serum exactly corresponding to the description given by the sacred narrative: “and at once came out blood and water”. Jesus died literally of a broken heart, of agony of the mind, leading to rupture of the heart [James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Vol. 1, part 1, pg 216].
True love hurts, all the time
The heart of Christ is the burning furnace of love. His passion and death can be summed up in one word: “LOVE.” In his passion and death, Christ did not invite us to physical death, no. He invites us to possess a big heart that loves so much so that it hurts to death. Finally, to love with a big heart like Christ is to be merciful, forgiving, compassionate and ready to sacrifice our lives in the service of others. As the singer, Ed Sheeran says, it, “Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes.” In fact, true love hurts, all the time. It takes sacrifice. It involves pain. It involves a giving of, a ridding of self. But, for God, nothing is too much for us. We are worth the life of God.
My friends, let us continue to make effort to draw closer to Christ, let us try to feel and taste, and to get an interior love of how much love the Father has for us, his Children! And no matter how dark it gets, not even Corona can separate us from the love that flows from the cross today.