Liturgical Year C

Good Friday; The Gift from the Cross

The synonym for Good Friday is the cross. The adoration of the cross is a part of the ceremony and many of us remember it ever since childhood as the central event on Good Friday. There are so many paraliturgical devotions connected with the cross in different regions of Croatia, but I will not go into that here... The cross can be looked at in thousands of ways: it can make us despair, it can make us proud, it can even be turned into a politicized issue. However, my intention here is to try to pray over it. To pray by looking at the cross as the source of salvation and joy, not of suffering and despair.

Today's text from the Gospel can help us pray. I have been reading and studying this text, actually the whole Gospel of John, for years; some parts of it I even know by heart, both in Greek and Croatian. John's Gospel has taught me that Jesus rules from the cross, that he is the one in charge. Suffering is not the only thing he does on the cross and he is not a toy played with by Jewish conspirators and Roman military forces. However, it took me so many years to realize that the Jesus’ cross was not just once upon a time thing, but it is HAPPENING now, it is going on constantly. It is not just a historical event, but people of all generations continue to be called, including myself, to stand by the cross and live from it.

When we focus carefully on the description of the crucifixion based on the Gospel of John we can distinguish five parts, five scenes which can be taken as the gifts from the crucified Jesus the King. Here they are:

Jesus, the King of the Jews – ruling from the cross

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.  Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews“ (Jn 19, 16-19).

The gift of clothes

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it”(Jn 19, 23-24).

The gift of the Mother

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said unto his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!“ Then said he to the disciple, “Behold thy mother!“ (Jn 19, 25-26).

The gift of the Spirit

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (Jn 19, 28-30).

The gift of blood and water

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (Jn 19, 31-34).

Each of these scenes represents a miniature icon over which we can meditate and pray. I would like you stop for a minute and look at some of them. I don't know have you ever dared yourself to imagine the crucifixion, hustle and bustle, screams and moans that scene included. If we concentrate on the scene John described there are far more characters around his cross than it seems at first. There are, including Jesus, twelve people. If you don't believe me, count for yourself. It isn't a random number; it is a biblical number par excellence. Some of these persons we know from this gospel or from the other three, some were given names later through the tradition, and some will remain anonymous forever. It is important to notice that some people were there only because of their service and they actually “don't get it“ (four soldiers and the robber at Jesus' left), some of them have already got into the mystery of Jesus' passion and his surrendering to the Father's will (the robber at his right hand), some had their eyes fixed on Jesus on the cross (three women named Mary) and finally two well known figures who stood beneath the Jesus' cross: his mother Mary and Saint John. Each of us can find oneself in these characters. I can recognize myself in these soldiers who just “don't get it.“ Although I have so much theoretical knowledge of the cross of Jesus, in everyday life I often act like it doesn't exist or like it is an ancient monument, but not the central point in life of every Christian, including me. I have also discovered another thing about me: I want to be in those soldiers' place not to be the one who will crucify Jesus, but the one who will get a piece of his garment. I wish for myself and so many people whose confessions I have heard that a piece of his holy garment covers our nakedness and shame and makes us worthy of standing by the cross.

Giving his mother is probably the most beautiful part of the Gospel of John and it doesn't need to be written about, but it needs to be experienced. Through Jesus' cross I have Mary as my mother. That is a holy truth you can live from, especially when your faith gets weakened, when you don't know how to or can't pray.

The gift of the Spirit is something special and a little bit hidden in the Gospel of John. Before Jesus gave up his spirit he said those mysterious words: It is finished! We can wonder, what is finished? The logical answer would be that Jesus' earthly life and his mission here is finished and now he is going to the Father to send us the another Defender, Paraclete, Holy Spirit. However, these words can be understood as the completion of revelation. Jesus will speak no more, he remains silent and rules from the cross. These words profoundly invite us to look up to the cross, at his silence and to communicate with Jesus asking for peace in our troublesome lives.

Finally, the gift of blood and water directly takes us to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus. Looking at the cross as the gift of the open Heart, open Love we could almost cry along with Saint Francis because Love is not loved. Love has not been recognized by so many unfortunate people. A great number of people are desperate for love trying to buy it or act/lie their way to love, but Love is here on the cross as free and inexhaustible source for everyone who wants to find it.

I hope that these reflections will stimulate you to stand by the Christ's cross. Let this cross be the eternal sign of salvation and victory raised in our hearts. The richness of Jesus' message from the cross should be the source of our life and then we will understand and accept our own crosses by which we can only be saved.

Taizé, August 2010

29.03.2013.Author: p. Antun Volenik, SJ
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