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Good Friday

'Good' Friday

When the evangelists write about the Passion of Jesus they are quite discreet. They do not go into any detail about the horrors of crucifixion and the terrible sufferings that it brings with it. Nor do they write simply that 'Jesus died'. They write that he 'breathed forth his spirit'. Then, at that moment, 'the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to the bottom'. Not the outer veil but the inner one which exposed the Holy of Holies.

These two observations of the evangelists betray their theological interests, not the horrors but the real meaning and significance of the death of Jesus. The crucifixion and death of Jesus as a manifestation of total self giving of sheer unsolicited love.

'God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever would believe in him might be saved'. Jesus, the Son of God, is the 'sacrament' of the Father's love for the world.

What do we actually see when we look at a crucifix? We see an effigy of Jesus as the sign of human helplessness nailed there as a consequence of human fear and hatred. But there is another way of looking at the crucifix. It can also become a symbol of humankind, and then we can see ourselves strung up, tortured and broken, and then the realization that Jesus crucified totally identifies with the human condition. That is what makes the cross the emblem of love and the sign of our salvation. Jesus did not die as a kind of victim of his Father's anger with the world. He died because he loved and loved too much.

Love is transforming, the source of all change in us. Without it we are dehumanised and can die. Jesus shows us that we are lovable enough to die for. But love can also be deeply threatening because when we experience love it reveals our insecurities, our weaknesses and our sins. We then have a choice. We can resist it or we can embrace it. But it must be freely accepted because it cannot be coerced. Loss of salvation, then, can occur from a free decision to reject love, but God so values our freedom that he will leave us with the consequences of our own choice.

Perhaps we can now turn back to the evangelists' two significant observations. When Jesus breathed his last he gave the world a Pentecostal moment, he breathed forth his 'holy' spirit for the salvation and renewal of the world. We are accustomed to celebrating this at Pentecost but that is a public manifestation of what has already occurred on the cross. And the veil of the temple is ripped apart: the word in the New Testament is related to 'schism', a splitting. The Holy of Holies is no longer confined to the temple. Jesus the Holy of Holies is present to the whole world.

When in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that his chalice should pass from him, the answer to his prayer was the resurrection. That is why Good Friday is shot through with ambivalence. There is no glory without suffering and death. But there is glory and that is why we can talk about 'Good Friday'.

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