GOOD FRIDAY 2023
Yesterday evening we celebrated the great feast of the institution of the Eucharist and reflected on God’s desire for us. That desire came at a terrible price for Jesus and today we contemplate that price. Had Charles Dickens been preaching to you today he would have begun, ‘it was the best of Fridays, it was the worst of Fridays’. Good Friday is the best of Fridays because it’s the day of humanity’s ultimate and everlasting liberation. It’s the worst of Fridays because it’s the day on which we truly see the worst of which we are capable as a human race, but it’s the best of Fridays because in Jesus we see the best of which humanity is capable. Jesus is never more human than when he is hanging, naked and bleeding on the Cross, the very symbol of human vulnerability, and yet this is the moment when his divinity is most graphically revealed. That was what he was trying to teach Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration and what they and we so often fail to understand, that there is no human darkness where God is not present.
Today, more than ever, we are called to a deeper understanding of the words ‘This is my body’. We stand together at the foot of the Cross as beloved disciples with our Blessed Lady and the other faithful women, with something utterly unimaginable before our eyes. Give yourselves a moment, if you can, to contemplate the mutilated human body in front of you. ‘This is my body’. This is how much God loves you and me – we are the pearl of great price, and he is willing to pay everything he has so as to win us for himself. This is how much we are worth, whoever we are and whatever we have done with our life or will ever do.
‘This is my body’. Those words point above all to the unity of God, Father, Son and Spirit, ‘Whoever sees me has seen the Father, for the Father and I are one’. This is why it’s such an awesome thing for us to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of the human life of Jesus, because what we receive is a share in the divine life of the one who humbled himself to share our humanity. These words also indicate his total identification with all distressed humanity. ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me’. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says:
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his to the Father
Through the features of men’s faces’.
If Christ is lovely in limbs and eyes not his, he is also maimed and ugly in those limbs when they are tortured and humiliated. When we receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist, we are drawn us into the life of the Trinity itself, a life that by its very nature is a mutual giving and receiving in love. Through his grace God makes us radically one with all humanity in the body of Christ, and especially with humanity in distress. To deny that mutual solidarity by our silence, our indifference, our apathy is to deny the meaning and value of this sacrament, whose purpose is to enable us to live justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.
If those words, ‘This is my body’ refer to our kinship with all humanity in Christ, then they also, of course, refer to ourselves. I want to invite you for a moment to look down at your own hands, to touch your own flesh, and to hear those words, ‘This is my body’. This flesh and blood of mine, this body and all that I do with it, are the body of Christ. What a massive difference it would make to us as human beings if we truly believed that. Our first task as Christians is to believe that the glory of God, the body of Christ is me, fully alive. ‘This is my body’. That belief allows us to experience and understand our ‘ordinary’ life as consecrated to holiness. If I can believe this about myself, then I can believe it of the rest of humanity, and this will transform the way that I see and treat others.
At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked Peter & the disciples ‘Who do you say that I am?’ We need to face Jesus and ask him the question back – ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The answer comes in his crucified body. The price that he paid to free us from every deep unfreedom of ours tells us who we are to him, now and for eternity. We are sinners, for sure. But we are loved and forgiven sinners, called to a life of extraordinary intimacy and communion in the flesh, with the living Christ. In this sacred sign of communion, we learn that we don’t have a body, we are a body, so how we are in our bodies and in our human reality matters.
In the grace of Christ’s body, it becomes possible for all things, including our wounded selves, to be reordered and to become genuinely what they were created to be. When our ego is liberated from slavery to its sovereign self, we gain the freedom to serve, living in comm-union. At the foot of the Cross, we contemplate the mystery of the Trinity dwelling within us and become able to see that indwelling in our brothers & sisters & all around us. The Indian greeting, ‘Namaste’ means, ‘the God in me greets the God in you’. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says,
‘I greet him the days I meet him,
And bless when I understand’.
When we become able to see others as Christ himself then we experience the whole world as redeemed. Hopkins also tells us, that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God’. It’s also charged with God’s pain as the Christ who plays in ten thousand places is crucified again each day within the misery and degradation that we inflict on one another. But a sacramental vision of reality teaches us that if there are many opportunities for us to live Eucharistically, there are also repeated moments each day for us to live Reconciliation and Healing and to exercise the priesthood of all believers through our confirmation in the Holy Spirit received at our baptism. Whether we are married or not, we are invited to live an intimate encounter in love with the Beloved who frames our lives as sexual, gendered people called to be Christ’s enfleshed presence in the world.
‘This is my body’ – the Word and Wisdom of God who chose to become flesh for our sake. ‘This is my body’ – my own self, the flesh in which I live. ‘This is my body’ – the Christ who is lovely or unlovely, beautiful or deformed but who is present in every human encounter. And finally, ‘this is my body’ – this earth which we are in the process of destroying by our greed and heedlessness. At the foot of the Cross, God’s dream for our world is made clear. We are united in one body to our Creator God and invited to become co-sustainers of that creation, called to live justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly every day of our life for which Jesus gave his own.