Today we come to the most sombre moment in the celebration of the Pascal Mystery because today is the day when we mark the death of Jesus on the hill of Calvary. As on every Good Friday we have just heard read to us the eloquent account from the Gospel of John of the events leading up to and surrounding the death of Jesus.
It is a most compelling story. Although we have heard it so frequently it is still able to put a chill up our spines as John in his measured way recounts the events of Jesus’ arrest, judgement, scourging and his ascent of Calvary carrying the heavy Cross. And then after being nailed to the Cross we hear his moving words as he places his mother into the care of the Apostle John and then, everything having been accomplished how he gave up his spirit.
What we are being invited to do on this most solemn day is to walk with Jesus as he took his last steps. This is what many of us have been doing during Lent as we went around the Church making the Stations of the Cross. In our devotions we have followed Christ every step of the way from the Seat of Judgement up to the Hill of Calvary.
What we are doing is best summed up in the word accompaniment. We have accompanied Jesus as he walked these last steps, we have stood alongside him as he was scourged, we have been by his side as he took the weight of the Cross on his shoulders, we have been with him as he fell three times only to get up again to continue his laborious journey. We were there as his hands and feet were cruelly nailed to the Cross and we stood gazing as he suffered his last agony and eventually gave up his spirit.
For us who believe it is more especially appalling since we know that, while it would have been a despicable action to put an ordinary man to death in such a brutal way, here it is the Son of God that is being so cruelly treated. Here it is happening to the kindest and most insightful man that ever lived. Here it is our Divine Saviour who is being subject to such viciousness.
This takes our breath away. We find it hard to believe that mankind could stoop so low. We are grieved that our brothers and sisters could do such a dreadful thing and yet we know in our hearts that we ourselves are in some way also culpable. We know that our own sins have in some way contributed to this terrible event. We experience a whole range of emotions from grief on the one hand right through to culpability on the other.
And yet despite our sorrow, despite our sadness, despite even our own guilt, we know deep in our hearts that something more is occurring here. For despite the pain and suffering, despite the brutality and cruelty, despite the wounds and all the harshness, here we see something truly glorious.
For on this infamous hill Christ turns the tables on the whole of mankind and in the most extraordinary act of love he wipes our sins away and opens up for us the road to eternal life. He returns kindness for cruelty, forgiveness for brutality, life for death.
Sad as we are, in our hearts we rejoice. We exalt because on that dreadful hill we were granted the greatest gift of all, full pardon, remission and absolution of all our sins.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket