The high point in the liturgy of the church throughout the year is the Holy Eucharist. But only once a year, the liturgy is not centered on the Sacrament but on the event. This day is Good Friday, when mass is not celebrated but we contemplate and adore only the Cross. From the fourth century onwards, there have been services for the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday , and these were destined to have a very positive influence on the faith and worship of Christians throughout the centuries . This is the day when “ the mystery of the Cross shines out” (Raniero Cantalamessa).
In the liturgy of today, the church proclaims the entire trial, the way of the cross, the death and burial of Jesus Christ (Jn.18:1-19 :42) to enable the Christian faithful to have a deep contemplation on and a mighty proclamation of the power of the cross. Satan, in the form of a serpent tempted Eve from a tree. But Jesus, from another tree, the tree of the cross, conquered satan through his death and resurrection. Therefore, today’s first reading rightly puts infront of us the prophecy of Isaiah (52:13-53:12): “My servant shall prosper , he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high.” As no one lights a lamp to put it under a tub but on the lamp –stand where it shines for everyone in the house (Mt 5:15), Jesus who came as the light of the world (Jn 8:12) was put on the lamp –stand of the Cross. Hence, in the second part of today’s liturgy we have the ritual of the unveiling of the cross. Three times the priest uncovers a part of the cross until it is completely revealed, and actions are accompanied by these solemn words:
“ This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the World.”
This ancient liturgical ritual is the symbol of the mystery of the Cross being gradually revealed throughout the centuries. The Cross is present throughout salvation history as “wood” or “tree.” It was the tree of life planted in the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, around which rebellion takes place when human beings claim the right to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil (Gen 2:9;3:2-3) .Wood was used to build the ark that saved humanity from the flood (Gen 6:14).Moses used a wooden staff to divide the water of the Red Sea (Ex 14:16).Moses threw a piece of wood into the bitter water at Marah to make it sweet (Ex 15:23 ff).The real Moses, Jesus divides the real Red Sea with the wood of the cross and by his obedience transforms the bitter waters of rebellion into the sweet waters of grace and baptism. During the journey in the desert when the Israelites spoke against God and Moses, God sent fiery serpents and their bite brought death to many, When the people acknowledged their sin and repented , Moses , as per God’s instruction raised a bronze serpent on a standard and everyone who looked at it was saved from death (Nb 21:4-9).In the same way, the Son of man was lifted up (John 3:14;19:37) to raise up mankind from the death of sin. This is the day when we are called to look at him for we are bitten by the serpent of sin.
What needs to happen today is an “unveiling of the Cross” in the hearts of Christians. O Christian! Recognize and lift up the cross of your life , so that its glory may shine out! What is your cross today? What is it that does not allow you to be happy and peaceful today?
Is the dark complexion and emaciation or obesity of your body your cross ? Are you discouraged because you are born of poor, uneducated, 1947 –model parents ? Are you sad because you could not get admission in a reputed school or can not afford to go for higher education ? Have you failed in the final exams ? Are you condemned to go in for NOS course? Are your teachers extremely strict with you? Were you sexually abused as a child? Are you orphaned because of the divorce of your parents ? Is loneliness your cross because you are the only child in the family or no one wants to make friendship with you at school ? Has your boy friend deceived you ? Has your girl friend run away with your best friend ? Have you been a slave of internet, pornography, pride, T.V., avarice, lust, alcohol tale-bearing, back–biting, hypocrisy ?Have you been a victim of homosexuality ?
Has your married life shattered on the rocks ? Is your drunkard husband your cross? Are you condemned to be a henpecked husband because of your nagging and dominating wife? Is it the marital unfaithfulness of your spouse that is destroying you ? Are you childless or over burdened with too many children? Did you go in for abortion turning your womb into a tomb? Do you have a handicapped child? Is your son a drug addict ?Has your daughter decided to marry a non -Christian boy whom you don’t accept ? Is the unemployment, under employment or low salary your cross ? Has your brother denied you the share of the property? Has your business partner ditched you? Has someone filed a case in the court against you unjustly ? Do you suffer because your boss claims to be always right? Does your neighbour eat your brains up ? Are you an irritating character to others ? Has the agent whom you trusted given you a fake visa and run away with your money?
Has someone returned evil for doing good ? Has someone insulted you or spoiled your good name? Is it the groupism among the teachers who are your colleagues? Have you turned grey or bald- headed prematurely ? Have you met with an accident and fractured your limbs? Are you suffering from cancer, diabetes or paralysis? Is someone down with a terminal disease in your family? Is someone bed- ridden at home ? Have your children dumped you in an old age home? Did someone die in your family young or commit suicide ?Do you have a mother -in -law who is like a military commander or do you have an ultra modern daughter- in -law ?
Are you in a vocation crisis? Has your vocation turned into a profession? Do you feel that you have been sent away from the seminary or novitiate unjustly? Have you been misunderstood by your formators and superiors or
that those who are under you don’t accept and respect you ? Do you find difficult to accept your parish priest ? Do you feel that you have been deprived of a position which you deserve in your diocese, office or school? Is the community in which you are living an unbearable cross for you?
Congratulations to you ! At last you have identified and unveiled the cross of your life. See, how many sins you have committed by trying to escape from these crosses. But have you solved any of your problems by doing so ? Therefore, this cross needs to be enlightened . God is your loving Father and has power to protect you from everything harmful. Then why has he allowed these crosses to enter your life?
Jesus turns these crosses as instruments to enable you to follow him. If anyone wants to be a disciple of mine let him take up his cross and follow me (Lk.13:27). He uses that cross like a hook to keep you attached to himself.
St. Paul says “While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle that they can not get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1Co 1:22-24). St. Augustine says “Jesus Christ has espoused us on the bed of the cross.”
In an ancient Paschal Homily we read: “the glorious cross of the Risen Lord, is the tree of my salvation; it nourishes my hunger, slakes my thirst and clothes my nakedness; it is Jacob’s ladder.” The cross is not the end. Christ is risen .The cross is swallowed up in victory. Jesus has cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross (Col.2:14). Therefore St. Paul says, “I preach Christ and Christ crucified . I boast in the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:14)
Today’s second reading says “ Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb4:16). The Pope will pass through the holy door today, carrying the cross in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. May we too pass from seeing the cross as a sign of condemnation and malediction to seeing the cross as salvation, pardon, our only hope and boast. God shows his omnipotence through forgiveness and mercy, for God’s love is greater than all our sins. The cross is also a promise of forgiveness and mercy for those who fall, so that they may not destroy themselves with guilt. We need to accept our crosses, weaknesses, defeats and humiliations to allow God’s power and wisdom to triumph again. Therefore, as you kiss the cross of Christ today, ask Jesus to give you the grace to kiss and embrace the cross of your life.
Remember, there is no crossless Christ and no Christless cross (Fulton J .Sheen). If you want to be a little like Jesus Christ, you will have a cross. But don’t be afraid! On the cross there will always be Christ. Hence in the last part of today’s liturgy through the holy communion , Jesus becomes present on the cross of your life to make it glorious !
N.B. My dear Reader,
This is not strictly a Good Friday homily or sermon but only reflections on the Cross. Therefore , take only what applies to you and leave the rest.