The liturgy of Good Friday is one of the most ancient and the most stark of all of the Church's ceremonies. Traditionally, there is no homily given on that day. Is that because on this penitential day the patience and ascetic spirit of the people of God is not to be tried by the kerygmatic enthusiasm of the clergy? Or is it rather that there are no words which can frame the mystery we celebrate: the death of God in the person of His Son; more than that, the murder of God by those who came to be through Him, for it was through Him that all things are made.
The liturgy today is punctuated by periods of silence. It begins in silence as the ministers enter and prostrate before the altar. They venerate the cross in silence and they depart, almost hurriedly, in silence at the close of the ceremony. In a way we come to the liturgy on Good Friday not to hear about the Lord, not to be told about Him, but so that He might address us Himself, that is why there is so much silence. We are silent so that we may not miss 'the word of the Cross'.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians St Paul writes of 'the word of the Cross' which is 'folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.' For Paul, and for John the Evangelist, the Passion of Jesus demonstrated Jesus's true identity, and the Cross was the new paradise tree on which hung Him who was to be the bread of life for us, the source of all sacramental power.
When Jesus stretches out his arms on the cross to draw all people to himself, he invites them to learn from Him who is gentle and lowly of heart and to find rest for their souls. The Cross is not only the throne of the heavenly King it is the cathedra of the Divine Teacher.
In one of his sermons St Augustine talks about the Cross as a classroom. He is contrasting the attitude of hopelessness of the disciples after the crucifixion with the Good Thief's eagerness to learn to hope in the Lord. Augustine says the disciples had forgotten their Master whereas the Good Thief had found his. As he says:
That cross was a classroom; that is where the Teacher taught the thief; the cross he was hanging on became the chair he was teaching from.
The power of the liturgy of Good Friday comes from the silent gaze of him who bore 'the weight of our sins on the tree.' All of those who come to our churches come to 'look on Him' whom we 'have pierced'. The liturgy of Good Friday allows us to bring all the damaged goods which have marked our lives, those of which we are aware and those we have suppressed or cannot articulate, to lay them at the feet of the crucified Lord, all making the same prayer 'Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom'. On this day when a great silence descends over the church we all identify with the repentant thief.
Bernard of Clairvaux writes with his usual richness on the Cross that speaks, the Cross that is the cornerstone of that divine language of obedience, sacrifice and worship that we must all learn if we are truly to be with him:
The Cross was a wedding chamber in which the True Spouse joined the church, his bride, to his own body. He bought here with the outpouring of his very own sacred blood. Therefore Christ listens intently not, any longer, to the soul of the repentant thief, but to the soul of his bride. He comforts her as she prays, with a suitable response: 'Amen, Amen, I say to you,' -- truly, to you I say it -- 'today you will be with me in paradise.'
Why 'to you?' Because you acknowledged me even when I was being tortured on the Cross. You will be with me in a paradise of pleasures. With me, he says. He doesn't say simply 'You will be in paradise,' or 'You will be with the angels.' No. He says 'You will be with me!' You will be filled and satisfied by the One you desire. You will see in majesty the One whom you acknowledge as crushed by infirmity.