Holy Friday (Good Friday) of the Lord’s Passion – March 29, 2024

 Holy Friday (Good Friday) of the Lord’s Passion – March 29, 2024

Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12; Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9; John 18: 1 – 19: 42.

 

Theme: The Holy Cross of Jesus and our Own Crosses

We are in Holy Week, which started last Sunday with the Palm Sunday Mass of the Passion of the Lord, and that will end tomorrow, the Holy Saturday, with the Easter Vigil Mass on the holy night. This week is called “Holy Week” because it is this week that we commemorate the significant events of the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ). On Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, we commemorated the triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem and the beginning of his passion. During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the Paschal Triduum, the summit of the Liturgical Year. Note that the Paschal Triduum is a single liturgical celebration that starts from the evening of Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Though Holy Thursday, Holy Friday (Good Friday), and Holy Saturday are chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day during which we celebrate the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper that we celebrated yesterday evening, Holy Thursday, was the first part of the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum. In that Mass, we commemorated the first Mass Jesus celebrated with his disciples at the Last Supper. Note that “Last Supper” alludes to the last time Jesus celebrated the Jewish feast of “Passover” with his disciples, the night before he was arrested and crucified. The Scripture readings of that Mass taught us how the chosen people, by God’s command, celebrated this Passover feast for the first time (first reading) and how Jesus, as a Jew, celebrated it for the last time (second reading and Gospel). From Saint Paul’s account, which we heard in the second reading, we learned that through Jesus’ action of self-giving, which was expressed in the words over the bread and the cup, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And by recommending that his disciples continue to celebrate that same liturgy in the future in his remembrance, he instituted another sacrament, the Holy Order. In the Gospel of the same Mass, the author of the Gospel of John gave us his version of the same event. He said that before the Last Supper Meal, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and commanded them to do the same to one another. Jesus inaugurated the commandment of Fraternal Charity through that act of humility and love. So, in the first part of the liturgy of the Paschal triduum, the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we commemorated the institution of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Order and the inauguration of the Fraternal Charity.

Today, the Holy Friday of the Lord’s Passion is the second part of the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum. Note that from today until tomorrow, before the Easter vigil Mass, the Church does not celebrate the sacraments except for penance and anointing of the sick. The reason is that our Lord Jesus is dead. Since it is he who celebrates Masses through the priest, there is no Mass until his resurrection on Easter Vigil. So, this liturgy of Good Friday is not a Mass but a liturgy in which we recall the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus. It comprises three parts: (1) The Liturgy of the Word of God and the Solemn intercession, (2) The Adoration of the Holy Cross, the source of our redemption, and (3) Holy Communion.

Let us now reflect on the Scripture readings of this liturgy. The story below will help us understand the theology of suffering that all Bible readings of today’s liturgy discuss.                     

Three men (Alexander, Maxwell, and Joseph) needed jobs. As a condition to be hired, their master asked them to travel a long distance on foot, and each needed to carry a big wooden cross to the job site. They started their trip early in the morning. They were excited and determined to get that job. After a couple of hours of traveling, they were tired. Their crosses were heavy to carry. Alexander, the oldest, shared with the group the idea of trimming their crosses to make them lighter. Maxwell agreed with him, but Joseph, the youngest one, disagreed. So, Alexander and Maxwell trimmed their crosses while Joseph decided to carry his entire cross to the destination. Alexander and Maxwell walked faster than Joseph as their crosses became lighter. On the road, these two men trimmed their crosses again, making them lighter. Finally, before noon, these two men arrived at the river and saw their master waiting for them on the other side. He congratulated them. Noticing that Joseph was not with them, he asked them to find out where he was. These two men told him their friend was lazy, and perhaps he died on the road. So, the master asked them to wait for him before they crossed the river and reached their destination. Very late in the evening, Joseph arrived with his entire cross. Then, the master asked each man to use his cross as a bridge to cross the river. Note that the crosses were about the size of the river. Alexander and Maxwell, who trimmed their crosses, could not cross the river because their crosses became too short. Only Joseph, who kept his entire cross, could cross the river and reach the destination. Alexander and Maxwell begged Joseph to let them use his cross, but the master said using someone else’s cross was not permitted.

Each one of us carries his/her “Christian cross,” and we are on our earthly journey to our destination, which is heaven. Crossing the river represents our passage from this world to heaven, which will occur at the final judgment. The cross represents our faith in Jesus. Each of us will use not the faith of the parents, the children, or someone else, but his/her own faith as a bridge to access the kingdom of heaven. “Trimming” our cross means adjusting our faith in the way that we want but not in the way God wants. This means our faith is trimmed whenever we sin.

To help us resist temptations that force us to “trim” or abandon our Christian faith amid our daily suffering, the liturgy of the Passion and Death of Jesus that we celebrate today invites us to reflect on the theme of the Holy Cross of Jesus and our own crosses. This theme is centered on the suffering of an unknown servant of the Lord (first reading), of that of Jesus (the Gospel), and the suffering that you and I endure daily.  

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah sings of the suffering servant, sinless and defenseless, silently facing affliction and condemnation. This reading commences with God claiming this “suffering servant” as “my servant.” Despite his sufferings, God said that “his servant” shall prosper, be raised high, and be greatly exalted. (Isaiah 52: 13). Our suffering will not last eternally. God is telling us that our suffering will end one day, and we will prosper. While the people looked at this suffering man as being punished by God, Isaiah said that it was the infirmities of the people he bore and their sufferings that he endured. Like a sheep, he did not resist nor protest. He suffered in silence. Notice the promise God made to “his servant” if he fulfills his mission and gives his life as an offering for the sins of others: “He shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” (Isaiah 53: 10). And his reward is to have a place among the great and to divide the spoils with the mighty (v. 12). So, for the will of God to be accomplished through us, and for us to have a place among the righteous in God’s kingdom, we are called not to “trim” our cross/faith but to carry it entirely until last day of our earthly lives.

The Church applies all that happened to the “suffering servant” of our first reading to Jesus. Suffering was no less part of Jesus’ life, as we heard in the Gospel, the account of the Passion of Jesus according to John. Before his Passion, Jesus went through numerous sufferings. He spent forty days in prayer and fasting in the wilderness, so he experienced hunger. He received rejections, even in his hometown. He went through frustrations several times with his disciples, who repeatedly missed the points of his lessons. Sometimes he needed time to rest in his ministry of teaching and healing people, but the crowds kept going to him and making him so busy and overwhelmed. During his passion, as Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel account, our Lord felt abandoned by his closest friends when he was arrested. Judas betrayed him. He is accused unjustly, revealed to the public as a common criminal, tortured, treated as an object of ridicule, and crucified on the cross. We cannot imagine all the suffering of dying on the cross. Our Lord went through a lot before and during his passion. He accepted to suffer and die because of our sins so that we might be saved. Despite all his suffering, Jesus did not “trim his faith” by disobeying God. You and I undoubtedly experience suffering moments on our own “way of the cross.” Today’s Bible readings teach us not to “trim our faith” but to carry it until the end of our earthly pilgrimage.    

The author of our second reading tells us that from all his sufferings, Jesus learned obedience (see Hebrews 4:15). His suffering is a “Yes” to the call of God. So, his death on the cross is the culmination of a whole life of self-surrender in love and obedience to God. Thus, by meditating on Jesus’ sufferings, we learn how to bear our own sufferings. We are called to face our sufferings with courage and great faith. Our second reading tells us that Jesus “offered prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Hebrew 5: 7). So, we too, any time we go through trials, let us continue calling upon God and he will hear our supplications. We, Christians, believe that since God did not abandon his Son Jesus but raised him from the dead, he will also never abandon us. So, let us not “trim” our crosses or abandon our faith because of suffering we go through.

When we feel like our crosses are trimmed (through our sins) and knowing that they will no longer serve us as a bridge to reach heaven, the letter to the Hebrews that we heard in our second reading exhorts us to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrew 4:16). Here, we are encouraged to go back to Jesus through the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession is when we receive the grace of forgiveness of all our sins, renew our relationship with God, get a brand-new cross/faith, and resume our spiritual journey.

May the Holy Cross of Jesus, which we will soon venerate today, help each of us grow up in our relationship with God even amid suffering and so enable us to carry our own "crosses” entirely until the end of our earthly journey. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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