The Good Friday service is so simple and yet so solemn. We begin in silence – then we listen to Isaiah’s account of Israel’s suffering servant, a man despised and rejected, a man acquainted with suffering and infirmity, a man wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, by whose bruises we are healed.
After the somber words of Isaiah we have the uplifting words of Paul – “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but we have one who in every aspect has been tempted as we all are, let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
We’ve just heard John’s telling of the passion of Jesus, a story filled with the best and the worst of human nature – the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the desertion of friends, the abuse of power by religious and political rulers – all this set against the integrity and strength of Jesus, Who would bear witness to the truth even though it would mean His death. He showed He would not allow Himself to be diminished by all the hatred that surrounded Him; He would love and forgive til His dying breath.
As Mary and John and Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene and other friends lowered the broken body of Jesus from the cross and prepared Him for a quick burial, their situation must have seemed hopeless. Everything had coming crashing down around them, their hopes were shattered. Only darkness lay ahead – for them there was no light at the end of the tunnel, only tomb darkness.
There can be times in many of our lives when we know the darkness and the hopelessness of that late Friday afternoon on Calvary. It could be a crisis that’s suddenly shattered our lives, the death of one we loved so much, it could be a long standing, chronic illness, or the frightful news, “you have cancer”. It could be a treasured relationship that’s gone sour or the loss of a sense of purpose. Situations in our lives can be so dark we find ourselves on the brink of despair; we lose any sense of hope. Some people would tell us that hope is the denial of reality. They would have us believe hope is wishful thinking of a better tomorrow that will never come. They are wrong. Hope springs from our memories.
Hope springs from our ability to remember with new understanding other times in our lives when we were just as desperate, just as distressed and bewildered as we may be now. We remember situations that we were sure would crush us to the grave, we even wondered if we could face the next day. We remember too that we were not crushed, we did survive, we did prevail, we did go on to live another day. With such memories in mind we know that whatever difficulties we are wrestling with right now we will surmount, we will overcome.
When tragedy strikes, when troubles come, when life disappoints us, as it often does, we find ourselves, torn and hurting, standing at the cross roads between hope and despair. We rise above despair when we remember we have overcome past desperate times and we, with God’s grace, do it again.
So many of the Hebrew psalms are songs composed in times of crisis, but they are songs that remembered God past mercies. Fortified with these memories they sing too of future victory. Jesus’ cry from the cross,”My God, my God why have You forsaken me?” are words from the beginning of the 22nd psalm, a psalm in which past mercies are remembered, a psalm that ends with the words of hope, “dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations”.
There is an old Latin hymn that sings, Ave Crux, spes unica. Behold the cross, our only hope. This hymn calls us to remember that on the cross Jesus loved us even unto death, death on the cross. On the cross Jesus gave His life for each of us. No matter what we may think of ourselves, Jesus thought enough of us to die for us. By His wounds we are healed. This memory, this reality is our only hope. Fortified by this memory we approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The motto of our Passionist community is, “may the Passion of Christ be always in our hearts.” If we keep in mind, if we remember the love of Christ crucified for each of us, if we keep in mind the things He suffered for each of us, then these very memories are the sources we need to face our future in hope – we remember Christ was with us in the past pain, we know Christ will be with us in present struggles and see us through them. May the passion of Christ be always in our hearts and minds as we behold and reverence the cross, our only hope.