Good Friday 2013

"Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help." With these words of encouragement and hope, the Letter to the Hebrews invites us today to look upon Christ Crucified with confidence, asking him for every grace and blessing. In the Intercessions that follow we pray for all mankind, then we venerate the Cross and, on it, the image of Jesus our Saviour, the Lamb of God. Throughout the Bible, God comes very close to his people and enters into a personal relationship with each one of them. He becomes their friend. How much more so in Jesus. Think of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well and of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Through his Incarnation he has destroyed the barrier between God and Man. In Christ we find both natures in the One Person: he is true God and true Man. "To have seen me is to have seen the Father."

We see this clearly in St John's Passion. Pontius Pilate plays a particularly important role in this Gospel. He is a tragic figure, finding Jesus innocent and wishing to release him, yet he is scared of the mob and frightened of losing his job. Instead of listening to his conscience, he acquiesces to the demands of the crowd, "Crucify him. Crucify him." He knows what is right and does what is wrong. He is a coward and his only excuse is that empty question, "Truth? What is that?" Yet, when all is lost, he still has courage to say, "What I have written, I have written." With that imperial inscription in three languages, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," he acknowledges the truth about Jesus. In every lie there is an element of truth. Many world leaders today profess being Christian and yet govern and legislate in a totally unchristian way, not wishing to offend the vociferous majority or even minority. Pilate is alive and well in our world.

In St John the women who follow Jesus to Golgotha stay close to him and not at a distance as in the other Gospels.  The two Marys, his aunt and the Magdalene, are mentioned by name, but not his mother or even the beloved disciple. "Woman, this is your son. This is your mother." Here we have a different aspect of the new Israel, the Church, constituted in the new Exodus of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. At the Last Supper the Twelve were present, but now at Golgotha it is his mother and the beloved disciple. Jesus brings them into a mother-son relationship and thus constitutes a Church, which is a family of disciples and friends. It will be the beloved disciple who discovers the empty tomb and Mary Madgalene, the Apostle of the apostles, who first sees the risen Lord. The Church is not only hierarchic but a community of believers who love one other as of brothers and sisters and so constitute God's family.

Finally, when Jesus bows his head and gives up the spirit, we meet another group of followers, who make up the Church of Christ. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea embrace the body of the dead Christ and prepare it meticulously for burial, laying it to rest in a new tomb in a garden. We are reminded of that garden where it all began, the Garden of Eden. "Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain." We too share in the new creation of his Kingdom, that new heaven and new earth.

Christ invites us all to come to him with confidence and become his friends. In heaven there is room for all of us, for Peter and the apostles, for his mother and the beloved disciple, for the women who followed him from Galilee, for Simon of Cyrene and Veronica, for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, for Pilate and his soldiers, for the scribes and Pharisees, even for Judas, such is the loving mercy of God. We must never forget that on Good Friday two mothers mourned the death of their sons. "Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more," wrote St Paul. Today we approach with confidence the throne of grace, the Cross of Jesus, to receive mercy from him and find grace in our every need. To Him alone honour, glory and thanksgiving, now and for ever. Amen.