The veneration of the cross was something I learned to love on my first visit to Taize two decades ago. The cross laid on the floor allowed us to come forward and to lay our heads upon it. This way of praying the veneration moved me deeply. I felt rooted to the wood of the cross. In August when I was there, the tradition clearly continued. People lined up for hours to kneel down, rest their foreheads upon the cross and pray.
Today’s Good Friday Service is a chronicle of Christ’s crucifixion. It is the story of both betrayal and blessing. The Gospel picks up after the last supper, the mass suspended in time from last night as the altar was stripped bare. John narrates as Judas enters the familiar space of the garden. In this place where they all would gather, Judas betrays his friend, entering with a group who has come to finally arrest Jesus.
How many times in your life have you been betrayed by someone close to you? How often has your heart been broken because someone you trusted put themselves first? What do you do you when a twist comes in a road and you are blindsided?
John’s Gospel paints a magnificent picture of the Christ in control. Jesus steps forward and asks them whom they are searching for. Jesus responds honestly to them that he is the one that they seek. Is it the power and truth of his words that make them step back and fall to the ground? He tells them to let the others go in order to fulfill Scripture that none would be lost. He takes full accountability for who he is and what must be done.
Peter in his zeal and confused concept of what must happen, cuts off the slave of the high priest’s right ear. In this version, Christ does not heal it. Instead he chastises Peter and reminds him of his purpose. He must be about his Father’s business and drink the cup that is placed before him. What did that slave consider as he fingered his missing ear in the decades that remained for him? Was he grateful for Jesus’ intervention? Did he recognize the blessing that he had been given? His life was saved for the one he had been sent to destroy.
Peter might be seen as a pathetic character to some but I think most of us recognize him in our own mirrors. All those times we confess we love the Lord and will follow him to the end of the earth are not often put to the test. We do not know the fear that Peter must have felt as life unfolded completely differently than he had hoped. The Kingdom that he had envisioned did not appear to be at hand. His beloved teacher was under arrest and it seemed that there was no way around how this might play out. Courage fails him, not once, not twice, but three times. He does not own the Truth. When the cock crows as predicted, John does not mention Peter’s reaction.
How many times have we not owned up to the hard truth about our actions? Have we denied Christ again and again? Have we betrayed someone dear to us?
As Christ stands before Pilate now, the crowd is hungry for blood. They want Jesus to be put to death. Pilate grows anxious. He, like so many of us, gets caught up in his fear and hunger for power. He makes bad decisions because he cannot stand in the Truth. In fact, he asks Jesus, what truth is. His inability to listen to his own wisdom leads to the crowd convincing him to have Jesus crucified.
When has pride gotten in the way of doing the right thing? Even when everything within says something is wrong, why do we not listen to that gentle whisper?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus carries the cross by himself. No Simon is convinced to help him. The soldiers cast lots for his garments. Jesus like so many people in our world is treated like a commodity, rather than the human being that he is. When was the last time you did not reach out to someone in need? Does greed sometimes override compassion in our lives?
Yet, near the cross are his mother and the women who have loved him. Here too is John, who is given to Mary and she to him as Jesus prepares to die. John will provide for Mary now. Here are the faithful followers. Here are the courageous clan who refuse to leave. Jesus says he is thirsty and again in fulfillment of Scripture, John has someone offer him a last sip of wine before he says it is finished. Remember a time when you were uncomfortable doing something but remained out of love. Stay in that pain, confusion and compassion for a moment. Receive the graces that come with the burden of the privilege of bearing another’s pain.
In the final words of the Gospel today, we see two friends of Jesus step forward out of the darkness of night and secrecy of the past to do the right thing, to bring a blessing to their friend. They choose to finally stand in the light and minister to the man who has completely changed their lives. They prepare the body for burial and place it in an unused tomb. We are often faced with difficult decisions. Time sometimes shows us the right way, even when it comes at a great cost.
Do you have a moment of enlightenment that caused you to act instead of allowing fear to hold you back? Being brave can change a person for life. I suspect Arimathea and Nicodemus never went back to the dark of night and the fears that kept them bound. They had no idea that in three days their friend would be back again but they chose the right path anyway.
What lessons have you learned this Good Friday in light of your whole Lenten journey? Do you want to be a bearer of blessings or live under the burden of betrayal? We all have a choice. We can choose each day to bear blessings. Holy Saturday is a perfect day to crawl into the tomb with Christ and ponder who we want to be as another Easter draws closer to the end. Christ has died for us so that we may have new life. Will we be open to what that means?