Part Five – Good Friday
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: The cost of Freedom
The Palm Sunday liturgy was both a reminder of triumph and tragedy. It is triumph as he entered Jerusalem and a bittersweet tragedy as his unjust persecution set in place the means of our salvation. For the followers and the curious, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an occasion of great joy and celebration. They loved Him, shouting and waving branches and making a royal path. The people were joyfully celebrating Jesus the king, the Liberator of the heart and mind, the destroyer of sorrow and restorer of life and joy. There was a triumphant joy among his followers that Jesus himself joined to all of creation which had groaned for this moment of salvation, as he said "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
The readings from Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week have helped us better understand that it was also a tragedy because of sin, disobedience, and of pride: our embracing affection for evil which wrought the necessity of our redemption through the greatest act of love and mercy. What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. By identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘Passover’ from sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom. Our celebration of Holy Week has not been just a deep reflection on our need for redemption, nor of thanksgiving; but of entering into the depths of each of the mysteries, together with Jesus, so as to rise with Him, reborn, a new creation. It is meant to be real and not merely a religious, pious, or devotional ‘make-believe’. By prayerfully entering into these mysteries through guidance by the Holy Spirit, we are able to encounter God anew. We are able to understand our brokenness and need for salvation more fully. We more deeply recognize that there can be no peace in the world until the peace of God reigns in our hearts. There can be no true freedom without having first been liberated from slavery to sin.
At the Mass of the Lords’ Supper on Holy Thursday as we reflected together on how Jesus initiated the sacramental way of grace and salvation through the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood through Holy Orders. We further this contemplation of the path made open to us today as we gaze upon Christ on the Cross. Christ, the paschal lamb without blemish who establishes a new testament, a new covenant in his blood in which we are washed just as the blood of the lamb was commanded by Moses to be sprinkled on the doors the saving power of which was not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it was a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, “when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.” From the Catechesis by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop (Cat. 3, 13-19: SC 50, 174-177)
As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, the words of God in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, the prophetic description forgotten and rejected by Peter, ought to ring true in our own experience of life in Christ, “…my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless…” We find ourselves reminded and so humbled, that “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”. We are reminded that although we are made children of God through the Sacrament of Baptism, a pure and purifying experience, this was made possible because Jesus handed himself over to evil to be tortured and executed, a horrible experience for Jesus. And, lest we despair of our condition before God, Isaiah reminds us that by his wounds we are healed. His suffering is not in vain. He has won pardon for our sins.
We call this moment in the life of Christ, good, because through our suffering Christ a way was made for our salvation. Christ on the Cross reminds us that he was not then nor is He now, ignorant to our sufferings. We know everything he has endured for us; therefore, we know that when we’re truly sorry for what we’ve done he’ll grant us his mercy. We just have to ask.
If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse, the execution of an innocent man should. To be actively cognizant of the joy of our salvation every day, is to be actively aware of our call to holiness and the ways in which we fail to live in the freedom for which we were made free. Jesus continually asks the Father to forgive us. And so, today is a day not to dwell solely on the tragedy but also to bask in the warmth of God’s mercy and love.
Christ wants us to know without any doubt that his love for each one of us is total, eternal, personal, and unlimited. We are loved simply because we exist, not for what we can do. However, we need not only to be loved, but also to love.
Mindful of the cost of our freedom and in light of the new commandment which Jesus gave “love one another as I love you”, our freedom, won at such great cost, must be lived in imitation of Christ. We must love each other freely, fully, and fruitfully. Unless we learn to love as Christ loves, selflessly, constantly, through storms and droughts, to the point of sacrificing our own comfort and dreams, we will remain spiritually immature. He loved us not only in important ways each day but as we heard last night, “he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end”, even unto death. No longer slaves, we must be willing and become able to love more greatly; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” John 15:13-17
Today when we receive in Holy Communion the same body and blood that suffered for us on the Cross, let's thank Christ for our freedom by his love, and ask him for strength to continue to live free.
The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. That water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, a symbol of the Eucharist. Don’t allow this mystery of His divine mercy to be passed over so quickly in your reflections, since it is why we say that the Church is born from the wound of side. From the blood and water: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and from the Holy Eucharist, Christ fashioned the Church. By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life and freedom.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.