Good Friday 2014
During the last world war our Western cultural upbringing was shown, at certain points, to be in stark contrast with that of Japan. What shocked and alarmed us was the willingness and even the desire of many of the Japanese military to kill themselves in order to drive home their attack, and those who, in this way, deliberately destroyed themselves along with their target, were intensely proud to thus give their lives, it being, for them, a most honourable way to die.
Here we see something of the universal character of our faith: it is, after all, called the Catholic, which means universal, Christian faith. For we should not, and indeed cannot, identify Christian values with those currently prevalent in our Western world, because our secularized Western culture is quite wrong, for example, in its fixation on satisfying to the full our human capacity for pleasure and endlessly stoking up our passion for pride. Western society has come to regard death as the end of everything that is desirable, and consequently views death, with all its concomitant forms of suffering, as something to be avoided above all else whereas the former Japanese attitude was much closer to the true Christian appreciation of the significance of death. On the other hand, the attitude of most Muslim fundamentalists today is more clearly motivated by hatred of others rather than by self-sacrifice for a most worthy cause, and as such is not only totally unworthy of a great religion but is an insult to human nature itself. As Christians we can never resort to self-inflicted death, let alone to personally-administered destruction of others, as a direct means to express our zeal for the promotion of any earthly cause, because our life is God’s gift for our salvation and His glory, not an earthly weapon of choice in the struggle for power or pride. Nevertheless, as Christians we are called to become so freed from the fear of death and to be inspired with such love for what is divinely beautiful and true, that we can wholeheartedly embrace death when it is to be encountered for witnessing to Christ and expressing our love for God, or for serving the urgent need of our neighbour.
Looking now, on this Good Friday, at the crucified Jesus, we recognize that, for Him, death was not the end but rather the climax of His life; it was not the loss of all that He had loved, but rather the sublime moment when He was at last able to give supreme expression to the love which had filled His whole life. Jesus said, “It is finished”: that is, He was aware, and filled with joy, that He had completed the task His Father had given Him when sending Him into this world. What was it that was finished? Not simply the work of our redemption, because the full fruit of that has still to be gathered in over the ages by His disciples working in the power of His Spirit in the Church and in the world. What then, at that very moment of His death on the Cross, was finally and fully finished? It was Jesus’ constant desire to give Himself utterly and entirely to the Father in His earthly being; to express, as much as the limits of His human body would permit Him, the consuming love He had for His Father.
I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50)
How He had longed, how long He had longed, to be able to give total expression to the depth and the intensity of His love for His Father! We can gather some impression of that longing when we recall that as a very young man, having been taken up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, He had totally forgotten to set off back home to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph in the caravan, because of His absorption in His heavenly Father; and it was only:
After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)
Such a Son had forgotten all about Mary, His mother, about Joseph, and the journey back home, because He was totally absorbed in discussions with the teachers in the Temple concerning His Father in heaven! There He was only about 12 years old …. how great that blaze of love for His heavenly Father must have become by the time He was 30!! And finally, the consuming intensity such love must have attained during the last two years of His life -- when He was occupied in His public ministry of expressing and trying to communicate His love for the Father to the Chosen People of Israel -- is, indeed, beyond our conceiving, for even Jesus Himself found human words inadequate for His needs, since the only way He could begin to describe it, was, as you heard,
How distressed I am until it is accomplished!
Now, however, on the Cross, that work has indeed been accomplished, that longing has been fulfilled: He has, at last, been able to give Himself entirely to His Father in total love and trust, to give Himself completely, not only with and in His human mind and heart, but also with and in His human body, given over, totally and completely on the Cross, for the Father’s glory! Jesus had never tried to direct His own life, He had always tried to do His Father’s will and to follow His Father’s lead: even in the choice of one to serve as the foundation rock for His Church, Jesus had not chosen the disciple He especially loved, but the one His Father had marked out for Him:
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:17-18)
To do His Father’s will had been the whole aim of Jesus’ life on earth, because, as Son before all time, His whole heavenly Being was a response of total glory, an expression of total love, for the Father.
That is how disciples of Jesus should regard their lives too. We are not, indeed, divine as was Jesus, but nevertheless, we know that God has a purpose for us to fulfil: we believe that we have, individually, a distinct role to play in the realization of God’s Kingdom. We do not know what that ultimate purpose is, lest we should turn in on ourselves and be overcome by pride. No; the disciple has, like Jesus, only one aim; and that is, under the guidance of the Spirit of Jesus, to fully live out the Father’s will, going wherever He indicates, doing whatever He wills. The disciple of Jesus knows that life is not -- as with the animals -- just for living; life has been given us for a purpose which God has planned, a purpose which, if followed out to the end, will lead to a revelation of the ultimate significance and final glory of our being.
Jesus said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit’ and then He breathed His last. Life did not just slip listlessly out of His grasp: He wholeheartedly gave over His life in total trust to His Father and then breathed His last. This final and total gift of Himself to the Father was, in that way, the fullest expression He had ever been able to give of the love that filled Him. For Christians, therefore, death should be supremely desirable in as much as it offers us the opportunity for the supreme expression of our love for the Father, our trust in Jesus, and our hope in the Spirit.
Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who, together with Moses, appeared to the disciples and was seen talking with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, had once uttered words not dissimilar to the words of Jesus (I Kings 19:4):
Elijah went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "It is enough, LORD," he said.
Elijah, however, was not the Lord; he was only a prophet of the Lord. Elijah said those words looking back at himself and his work, and counting himself a failure:
Take my life, Lord; I am no better than my ancestors.
On the Cross, however, Jesus was not looking either at Himself or at the result of His work: all that He had ever sought had been to do His Father’s will, and so, as He said, ‘It is finished’, He was not looking back but rather looking upward and forward to His Father. He had, at last, been able to give the fullest possible expression to His love for the Father that His human body would allow Him. As for His work, the Father would bring that to fruition Himself:
Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit
Dear Lord Jesus, may your Spirit form us in your likeness so that, with You and in You, we might, at the end of our days on earth, lay down our lives in peace as Your true disciples, having learnt to obey the command You gave us when You said:
Love the (Father) with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)