Good Friday 2012

"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 we need. In the Good Friday Liturgy we do just that. In the Intercessions, which follow the homily, we pray for all mankind and then we venerate the Cross and, on it, the image of the Saviour of the World. That word confidence is so important. How many of us are afraid of God or embarrassed by him and keep him at a distance? It's so easy to become a lapsed Catholic, even when you keep coming to Mass and saying your prayers, keeping up appearances, as it were. I know this from my own experience.

One of the many interesting things about the Gospels is to see how close Jesus comes to people. They can't help but enter into a personal relationship with him. Think of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well or of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We know that through his Incarnation he has broken down and destroyed the barriers that separate God from Man, for in Christ there are two natures in the One Person: he is true God and true Man. "To have seen me is to have seen the Father." Let us take a closer look at those who encounter Jesus in his Passion.

Pontius Pilate plays a particularly important role in St John's Gospel. In many ways he is a tragic figure, finding Jesus innocent and wishing to release him, but he's frightened of the mob and scared 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. Like many of us he is a coward and his only excuse is that limp and empty question, "Truth? What is that?" Yet, when all is said and done, he still has enough courage to say, "What I have written, I have written." With that imperial inscription in three languages, "The King of the Jews" he inadvertently and ironically acknowledges the truth about Jesus. No matter how dark the night, there is always a speck of light somewhere. In every lie there is an element of truth. How many world leaders today profess to being Christian or members of another faith, and yet govern and legislate in a totally unchristian or irreligious way, not wishing to offend the vociferous majority, or even minority, by mixing religion and ethics with politics. To tell the truth, Pilate is alive and well.

In St John' Passion the women who follow Jesus to Golgotha stay close to him and not at a distance as in the other Gospels. It is interesting to note that his aunt Mary and Mary of Magdala 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 another aspect of the Church, the new Israel constituted in the new Exodus of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection. At the Last Supper it was made up of the twelve disciples, but now at Golgotha we meet his mother and "the disciple Jesus loved." Jesus brings them into a mother-son relationship and thus constitutes a Church that is more like a family, the community of those who hear the word of God and keep it. "If you love me, keep my commandments." It will be the beloved disciple who discovers that the tomb is empty and Mary Madgalene, the Apostle of the apostles, who will be the first to see the risen Lord. The Church is not only priestly and hierarchic. It is also a community of believers who love one other, of brothers and sisters, Christ's family, God's children.

Finally, when Jesus has bowed his head and given up the spirit, we meet yet 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..." Now we are all caught up in the new creation and are part of this new beginning, a new heaven and a new earth, in which all are invited to be members of Christ's Body, the Church, for no one is excluded from the love of God made manifest in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we can come to Christ with confidence. "In my Father's house there are many mansions." In fact, in heaven there is room for all of us, for Peter and the apostles, for his mother and the disciple Jesus loved, 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. God's mercy and love are greater than our weakness and sin. Now all we need do is approach with confidence the throne of grace, the Cross of Jesus, and we shall receive mercy from him and find grace in our every need. To him all honour and glory and thanksgiving, now and for ever. Amen.