Friday 19 April 2019: Good Friday
By his wounds we are healed
Isaiah 53:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
By Terry Tastard
Catholic Parish Priest in North London
Context: a typical Good Friday congregation, with a mixture of ages and outlooks, in a suburban church
Aim: to show that the sufferings of Christ speak to our human suffering
In the first few centuries of the Church, as its leaders were trying to understand the meaning of the cross, they often summed it up in one short phrase: ‘The uncrucified is the unhealed.’ That is to say, what has not been crucified has not been healed. They linked Christ on the cross to the healing of humankind.
Think of it as a coin with two sides – on one side of the coin is human sinfulness: our tendency to violence, jealousy, resentment, and exploitation. Jesus takes upon himself this human weakness and displays it on the cross. The cross is human weakness and wickedness writ large. It confronts us with the violence that we read about in the newspapers or see in the TV news. Sometimes we only have to look into our own hearts.
We must resist the temptation of our era to see Jesus as a good man and nothing more. Because the point of the cross is that we do this not only to a good man, but to one who was the Son of God. In him the human and the divine are united. We do it to God himself. Hold on to this, because it is essential. You see, although this is a confrontation, it is not a rejection of us. On the cross God confronts us with the truth about ourselves, but his verdict is not one of damnation. Rather, the cross becomes an assurance of love, of mercy, of forgiveness. Just as on the cross Jesus says, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Human sin is taken to the cross in the wounds inflicted on Jesus, and having been crucified, it is healed, as we begin to understand the limitless depths of God’s mercy as God takes away our sin. On the cross our sin is lifted up for all to see – and we are forgiven. Our sin is crucified, and we are healed.
Then there is the other side to the coin – it is not only sin that we see on the cross, it is also human suffering. We recognize something of ourselves in the pain and distress of Jesus on the cross.
All of us know suffering at some time in some way. There are frightening illnesses like cancer. There are troubles of the mind like depression or the deep dread that takes the form of crippling anxiety. Good people who entered marriage with a sincere heart find that even so, their relationship is strained or even fractured. Jobs disappear, and great worry can come with that. Workplaces can be harsh and demanding. Families can fall apart under the strain of someone’s addiction to drink or drugs or gambling. In sum, human suffering can be very real, and can take many forms.
At times like these, we look again at that figure on the cross. Somehow, because we know that Jesus understands, we find a healing and a peace even in the midst of our afflictions. This is possible because we realise that Jesus knows from the inside what suffering is like. In that short, powerful phrase we hear today from Isaiah and apply to Jesus, he is ‘a man of sorrows.’ And we come to the cross when we are men or women of sorrows. We bring our pain and bury it in the wounds of Christ. Once more, his suffering becomes our healing.
On the way to the cross, Jesus was mocked and whipped. His nose was rubbed in the dirt. There are those haunting words by Jesus about being forsake. Yet in this very moment, God was reaching out to us in Christ, embracing us to himself, showing us the lengths to which he would go to show his love for us.
Hence our thankfulness today. Hence the strange fact that we call this Good Friday. This sad, draining day is Good Friday, because through the cross of Christ God shows us (in the words of St Paul) that ‘Neither death nor life … nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height, or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). What a wonderful reassurance. We are part of the humankind that nailed Christ to the cross. It was not the Jews that did this, but humankind, to which we belong. And yet the result is not that we are cast out, but rather, that God uses this to draw us back to his love.
A bishop once visited a sixth form college and debated with the students about Jesus. In the discussion he asked them where Jesus was between his death on the cross and his resurrection. A girl put up her hand. ‘I believe’ she said, ‘that Jesus was in deepest hell, looking for his friend Judas.’
What a profound and moving thought. Because truly, that is what God is like. The humiliation of God raises up a fallen mankind. Life on the cross ebbs away, but new life for us begins. In the midst of suffering, there is peace. By his wounds, we are healed.
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