Good Friday | Fr Peter Clarke discovers the joy of the sacrifice of Calvary.
What a ghastly day, what a terrible day - the day on which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, died on Calvary! And yet we name this, ‘Good Friday!’ – but not because we see it as being pleasant, enjoyable.
For us this day is the most sacred of all days! From the Cross of Jesus flowed a quality of love that only could proceed from Almighty God. Perhaps, even more amazing, this same incomparable love flowed from a human heart – that of the Son of Mary, Jesus, a member of the family of mankind - our brother.
While St. Paul wrote, “If I am without love I am nothing,” (Cor 13:2). Jesus, speaking of His impending Passion, exclaimed, “No-one can have a greater love than to lay down His life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). In the divine person of Jesus sacrificial love surpassed all human limitations. “In Him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness. And in Him you too find your own fulfilment” (Col 2:9).
Jesus Himself made clear that we would only find our fulfilment by our sharing in His own sacrificial love. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). The implications of this are daunting. Jesus was terrified at the very thought of what He was to undergo. In Luke’s account of the Agony in the Garden we read, “Jesus knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine . . . In His anguish He prayed even more earnestly, and His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Lk 22:42).
Especially on Good Friday it is uplifting for us to be able to see that what God asks of us is often a way of life that amounts to sacrificial love for others. It is then Jesus calls us to allow our lives to be reshaped for their sakes. We shall then have answered this call of Jesus to die to a life of self-centred individualism. In so doing we shall have acquired something of the mind of Christ. We shall have become Christ-like.
Unobtrusively, countless people like you and me day after day respond to the needs of others–generously, willingly, lovingly–in the home, the work-place, within the community. What a wonderful Good Friday grace it is for us to be deeply conscious that we are actually carrying our crosses, side by side with Jesus carrying His cross. Like Jesus we are then doing what our Heavenly Father is asking of us–not, however, without a measure of self-pity and grumbling.
Nothing unusual is being asked of us. This came home to me on the day I was taking Holy Communion to a young mother in Grenada. She was lying paralyzed on her bed. Her little son was sitting silently holding her hand. His wonderful love for her moved him to forego the joy of playing football with his noisy friends outside. It was my privilege to see here sublime sacrificial love.
As for Jesus, the love-filled joy He felt in laying down His life for us far out-weighed the agony He was to experience in His Passion. He rejoiced that through His sacrificial love He would bring us "the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life ever-lasting." In this was brotherly love beyond compare! The Letter to the Hebrews would have us identify with Jesus in His sacrificial love of that first Good Friday. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which lay ahead, He endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken His seat at the right of God's throne,” (Heb 12:5).
Good Friday teaches us there is joy to be found precisely in the stress and strain of our making sacrifices for others. It is then that we share in Jesus’ greatest of all loving–His self-giving for the well-being of mankind.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. from the Dominican parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Portland, Oregon.