Reading I: Is 52:13—53:12
Responsorial Psalm: 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
Reading II: Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Gospel: Jn 18:1—19:42
Liturgical colour: Red.
Today on The Passion of The Lord (Good Friday), we hear John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ victorious death upon the cross. Victorious death you may ask? Yes, the cross is where the path of faithfulness leads. Jesus is victorious in his faithfulness to the end. Especially in the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus knew about the betrayal, the abandonment, the suffering, and his death that was to come in his last days. Jesus knew the danger that was to come, and he continued directly to it. To die on the cross was to triumph. It is the central reason Jesus had come down to earth. Jesus’ death is key in Jesus’ victory and in our Salvation.
John writes that. Jesus has foreknowledge of what is to come and is confident in continuing his mission, knowing that mission leads to his death.
Let’s consider a few examples of Jesus’ faithful confidence from the Gospel of John. After Jesus enters Jerusalem with palm branches waving on Palm Sunday, he declared, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and speaks of his death as the falling of a grain of wheat which dies and bears much fruit. He continues to tell us of the hour of his death as the reason for which he has come. As he preaches this, the crowds hear affirmation in the thunder of God’s voice. In today’s Holy gospel, when the Roman soldiers come to arrest Jesus in the garden, Jesus does not fight back or run away, rather he declares, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus carries his cross to the site of the crucifixion.. Even John’s description of Jesus’ death emphasizes Jesus’ powerful choice to follow through with his mission: “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30). Jesus “gave up his spirit” in the active voice: Jesus is not a passive victim in this gospel. John paints a portrait of one who knows what is to come and desires to follow through with it. Jesus chooses to suffer and die for our Salvation.
As John tells of Jesus’ passion, he lifts up meanings for his community and also for us. Kingdom and power emerge as major themes.
The major exploration of kingdom and power begins as Jesus is brought before Pilate, the governor of Judea. Pilate has heard Jesus has been called the “king of the Jews” and questions him about his kingship. Jesus replies that his kingdom “is not from this world.” Jesus’ kingdom is greater than this world, it existed even before this world was ever brought into being. Jesus declares that Pilate’s power is dependent on a greater power. Pilate is both fearful and scornful.
When the crowd outside Pilate’s headquarters gets involved, the debate about kingship expands to a reflection of whose leadership we follow. The faithful response is to acknowledge God alone as the one to whom we owe allegiance. But, instead of declaring “God is our king,” the chief priests declare “we have no king but the emperor.” They reject the promised king that God has sent. Many Christians have done violence to modern Jews because of John’s portrayal of their rejection. But that was not his point. Rather, John was reflecting on the rejection his Christian community felt from the Jewish communities in which they worshipped and with whom they identified. For us today, the religious authorities’ rejection invites us to consider our rejection. When God acts other than we expected, when we don’t get what we think God should give us, when other people or things look more likely to give us life and security, do we also reject God? Do we also claim another as our king?
Pilate twists and mocks the idea of Jesus as being king. He has Jesus dressed in a royal purple robe and crowned with thorns. Jesus is shackled and is beaten then is condemned to death. As he hangs on the cross, Pilate’s royal declaration hangs above: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate sees crucified Jesus as the furthest thing from an image of a king.
The cross is the throne which Our Lord Jesus ascends. Humility is the path which he chooses. But his kingship is sure. Jesus is one with the God the Father whose power is greater than all. Jesus sets aside power in his incarnation and death. Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning testifies to the kingship and power that rightly belong to him. Pilate intends to mock the powerless king, but Jesus proves his victory in setting aside power. Jesus is ruler of a different kind of kingdom, in which the powerful one gives up themself for the sake of the weakest.
The cross is the moment of Jesus’ victory. But what is it Jesus is victorious over?
Jesus is victorious over sin, over death, and over the devil. Jesus breaks the powers of this world that hold us captive and separated from God. Jesus opens his kingdom to all people.
The powers of evil, and of death, were broken when they tried to claim Jesus. From the beginning of the gospel, John wants us to know that Jesus is the word of God, Jesus is from God, Jesus is God. Jesus Christ is present at the creation, bringing life into being, making light out of darkness, creating out of where there was nothing. So when this Jesus Christ enters into the darkness of death, and death tries to turn him into nothingness, death fails in his task. The one who creates life, light, and creation cannot be conquered by death. Jesus makes light in the midst of the darkness of death and turns the nothingness of death into full life and eternal life. Jesus emerges from suffering death fully restored in newly created life.
So what does all this mean for you and for me?
The cross is the place of victory for Jesus, and also the place of Victory for each of us who truly love, believe and follow. Jesus draws all peoples to himself as he is raised up on the cross. We who have been united with Jesus through baptism are united with Jesus in his death. Jesus’ death breaks apart the kingdom of this earthly world that is opposed to God and firmly establishes the kingdom of God. We are brought into the kingdom of God.
This means that you have been freed from all those things which take life away. From eternal Death, fear, greed, the need to live up to other’s expectations or ways of valuing life- none of these things have a hold on us anymore. Jesus has won us away from these powers.
This night, we welcome the cross into our midst. We honour the cross as the symbol and place of Jesus’ victory, in doing so, we glorify our Lord Jesus who died there. As Jesus transforms the world with his kingdom, Jesus has transformed the cross from a place of shame to a place of victory.
Easter Sunday, the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus Christ are the final affirmations to Jesus’ victory on the cross. We know that the cross was a battle won because Jesus emerges from death. We celebrate Jesus’ faithfulness to the cross and God’s faithfulness in providing life. We rejoice in Jesus’ death, because we know that it is not the end of the story. On Easter morning, we will celebrate the bloom of the seed of victory planted this day.
Let us pray:
We remember today, the pain and suffering of the cross, and all that Jesus was willing to endure, so we could be receive salvation. He paid the price, such a great sacrifice, to be victorious over sin and death, and to win us the gift of eternal life.
Help us never to take for granted this huge gift of love on our behalf. Help us to be reminded of the cost of it all. Forgive us for being too busy, or distracted by other things, for not fully recognizing what you freely gave, what you have done for us.
Thank you Lord that by your wounds we are healed. Thank you that because of your huge sacrifice we can live free. Thank you that sin and death have been conquered, and that your Victorious Power is everlasting.
Thank you that we can say with great hope, “It is finished…” For we know what’s still to come. And death has lost its sting. We praise you for you are making all things new.