Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: The Way of the Cross

Today’s readings

I saw a little comic on Facebook yesterday that had two panels. The top panel was entitled “your way” and showed a stick figure on a bicycle traveling a straight road to the finish line. Smooth sailing, or bicycling, whatever. The bottom panel wasn’t so simple. The same bicyclist had to travel a very treacherous road, filled with rocks, mountains to climb, ditches to avoid, an ocean to cross, and many other obstacles. That panel was entitled “God’s plan.” The only thing that panel was missing was the Cross, and well might it have been there.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

You heard me quote that, the Entrance Antiphon for this Sacred Paschal Triduum, in my homily last night. Last night I reflected on the scandal of the Cross, and today I’d like to continue the discussion by reflecting briefly on the Way of the Cross. Lots of us are familiar with the Way of the Cross: we come to the Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent and reflect on them; perhaps we even reflect on them privately in our homes, or here at church, or outside of church on the back piazza. Whenever we’ve prayed the Stations of the Cross, maybe like me you’ve found it tiring to stand and kneel and genuflect in fourteen different stations. But I can assure you the first person to have traveled the Way of the Cross didn’t have it anywhere near as easy.

As we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, the Way of the Cross becomes quite clear to us. It involves betrayal, injustice, and abandonment. It required prayer, focus, and love.

The betrayal was easy to see. Judas is disgruntled, or disillusioned, or greedy, or some combination thereof, and so he looks for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the authorities. They were delighted and most willing to pay Judas. And there begins the injustice: the tainted motives of the Sanhedrin, the cowardice of Herod and of Pilate. Our Lord is railroaded to his death. And then begins the abandonment: Peter denies him, the disciples fall asleep, they all flee when he’s arrested. Because our Lord has taken all of our sin on himself in this moment, he rightly feels abandoned, a living hell on earth: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps. 22:2)

But it’s important that we get this right today. John spells it out quite clearly throughout his Gospel narrative: Jesus did not get dragged kicking and screaming to the Cross – no, he willingly gave his life that we might live. And that required prayer: uniting himself totally with his Father, he took on his Father’s will. It required focus: Jesus never took his eyes off the Father, he was completely focused on what he came to do and why he came to do it. And it required love. And this is the part I can’t stress strongly enough, Brothers and Sisters: our God loved us so much, that even the betrayal, injustice and abandonment could not stop him from bringing us back to him. His great love and mercy required that his only Begotten Son would pay the price for your sins, and my sins. He willingly gave his life for us – because he loved us beyond anything we could imagine or dare hope for.

That was Jesus’ Way of the Cross. But it’s important to know that we have our own crosses too, and while they might not be what God would like to give us in his love, he allows them in his mercy. The Way of the Cross is the way disciples live. And so we too will suffer from betrayal: when friends let us down, or coworkers take advantage of our compassion, or when our bodies stop doing what we need. We too will suffer from injustice: when someone pre-judges us, or when we give so much to a relationship without anything seeming to come in return, or when our jobs are eliminated. And we will also endure abandonment: when nobody comes to our defense, or when our illness causes them to pull away. Some days it may even seem like God has abandoned us.

But our prayer will tell us otherwise. Prayer is the fuel disciples use to navigate the Way of the Cross. Prayer helps us to focus, and when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can see where the road is leading us. And that focus helps us to embrace the cross in love, joining our sufferings to those of Christ, who deeply longs to lead us to eternity.

Because the Way of the Cross might require death, but it doesn’t end there. Good Friday is good for a reason. And in our deepest sufferings, we can always take comfort that our Savior has gone there before us, and has blazoned the trail that leads to life.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

Good Friday: The Reproaches

The Reproaches, known in Latin as the Improperia, are suggested to be chanted during the Veneration of the Cross during the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.  They’re not often done, unfortunately, but I think they are worth our reflection.  They come partly from the book of the Prophet Micah, who laments the many ways the people of Israel have spurned the Lord and foretells their destruction because of it.  In the sixth chapter, the prophet sets up the Lord’s case:

 

My people, what have I done to you?
how have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I ransomed you;
And I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:3-4)

The Reproaches take up this theme, telling of the many ways God has offered salvation to his people, and how that offer has been spurned over time.  This is serious stuff, because it lays down the case of how our sins put our Lord on the Cross today.  I have to admit, if one doesn’t feel guilty in some way after hearing the Reproaches, one may not be capable of affective emotion!  Here is the text:

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: Holy is God! 
2: Holy and strong! 
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

Repeat “Holy is God…”

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

Repeat “Holy is God…”

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.

(Repeated throughout by Choir 2)
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: “My people….”

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: “My people….”

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: “My people….”

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: “My people….”

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: “My people….”

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: “My people….”

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: “My people….”

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: “My people….”

And here is a nice chant of it, courtesy of Youtube:

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

How quickly things have changed among Jesus’ followers.  His disciples – even the chosen Twelve – have pretty much deserted him.  They’ve either fled in fear, or else they have betrayed him, or denied that they knew him.  But some women who were among his devoted followers have braved the implications for them and have arrived with him at the foot of the cross.  The Beloved Disciple – probably John – has come too.  And, of course, his mother.

Think for a moment how much grief has to be in the heart of Mary.  Joseph seems to be out of the picture now; we assume he has died.  Jesus is all she has left in the world, her promised one.  She certainly knows that his hour is at hand, we know that she continues to trust in God, but the pain of these moments has to be almost too much to bear.  And so Jesus speaks to her from the cross: “Woman, behold your son.”  And to John, “Behold your mother.”  Jesus knows that for those who were closest to him in life, they will have need of support, of community, after his death.  Grief cannot be borne alone.  But not only that, community is essential to the continuation of Jesus’ mission.  So that relationship, forged at the foot of the cross, became the basis for discipleship for both Mary and John that would be instrumental in leading the fledgling Church into the ages ahead.

Still greater, though, is that we see in Mary an icon of the Church.  We grieve too, but we for our sins.  As we look up at the cross, we see – with horrifying clarity – the effect of our sins.  We know why Jesus had to come to this hour.  As Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”  No one sentenced Jesus to die on that cross as much as we did, and do, in our daily sins of commission and omission, in our harsh words, in our unkind and impure thoughts, in our lack of loving and in the neglect of our mission.  And yet, as John clearly points out in his Gospel, he went to the cross willingly, taking all that brokenness with him.

Like Mary, we the Church wait at the foot of the cross, not abandoning our Jesus who did not abandon us to our sins.  We, like Mary, receive at the cross our relationships, purified for our salvation, strengthened for the mission: beholding our mothers and sons and daughters and fathers, because we never get to the resurrection alone.  We’re not supposed to go it alone in this life.  Even in his most painful and dying moments, our Jesus gives us gifts that help us to arrive at the fullness of salvation.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Isaiah’s lament catches us up in the emotion of Good Friday.  The suffering servant’s appearance is so marred, stricken and infirm that we cannot bear to look at him.  Because if we really looked hard enough, we know, in our heart of hearts, that the marring, the strickenness, the infirmity are all ours.  This is a dark hour.  It seems like all is lost.  And we too will have dark hours of our own.  That’s one of the few guarantees that this fleeting life gives to us.  We will have to bear our own cross of suffering: the illness or death of loved ones, the loss of a job, the splintering of a family, or even the shame of addictive sin.

It is our brokenness that we see in the suffering servant, our sinfulness on the son of man.  And this suffering one is embodied by our God, Jesus Christ our Savior, who carries all of that nastiness to the cross, and hangs there before us, bleeding and dying and crying out in agony.  That’s our sin, our death, our punishment – and he bore it all for us.  Who could believe it?

And just when it seems like there is nothing left to give, when it seems like all hope is lost, when it seems like death has the upper hand, the soldier thrusts his lance into the side of Christ, and he pours forth the life blood and water that plants the seeds of the Church into the barren ground of the earth, guaranteeing the presence of the Lord in the world until the end of time.  Christ our God gives everything he has for us, takes away all that divides us, and performs the saving sacrifice that makes salvation possible for all people.  Our God gives up everything – everything – for love of us.

We know that the suffering and death of Jesus is not the end of the story.  In the day ahead, we will keep vigil for the Resurrection of the Lord which shatters the hold that sin and death have on us.  We are a people who eagerly yearn for the Resurrection.  We must certainly hope for the great salvation that is ours, and the light and peace of God’s Kingdom.  But today we remember that that salvation was bought at a very dear price, the price of the death of our Savior, our great High Priest.  Today we look back on all of our sufferings of the past or the present, we even look ahead to those that may yet be.  We see all those sufferings in our suffering servant on the cross.  And as we sit here in God’s presence we know that we are never ever alone in those dark hours, that Christ has united himself to us in his suffering and death.  May we too unite ourselves to him in our own suffering, and walk confidently through it with him, pass the gates of salvation, and enter one great day into God’s heavenly kingdom.