I guess the first thing we might notice – as Christians – is that we are meant to be bearers and proclaimers of good news. And our central message is caught up in the events of that first Friday which we call good.
But what about it could be called good? We have just read the account of the passion from John’s magnificent gospel; wonderful though it is, with a very regal Christ, who in one sense almost reigns from the cross – nothing can take away from the horror of the death of Jesus. The sheer brutality, the bloody torture, the heart-breaking pain that Jesus experienced in his death.
We have journeyed with Jesus this week – from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to his betrayal, and last night to the last supper in the upper room, followed by the anguish and arrest of Jesus in the garden and the desertion of the disciples.
Today we have continued to walk with Jesus along the stations of the journey of his cross – the trial, the judgement, the scourging, the passion, and finally the death of Jesus – stripped and naked, raised up upon the cross.
The culmination of our journey today is to behold Christ; we gaze upon the face of Jesus, the body of Jesus stripped for our view. At the turn of this century, a statue of ‘Ecce Homo’ – the naked Christ, was placed on a plinth in Trafalgar Square, in central London. It was of a slim young man. Unlike all the other statues around him, this one was life-size, vulnerable and utterly realistic. Someone passing by said that “you couldn’t put your faith in a man like that, he’s as weak as a kitten.” Maybe the iconoclasts were right – it is scandalous to show the naked face of God.
The climax of the events of that first Friday – was the sight of Jesus’ dead face. Any passer-by could look upon that face – but their gaze would not be returned. This is such a stark reversal of the previous understanding of our relationship with God: God was the one who saw us but whom we could not bear to see. To see God was to die. Here on the cross it is God whose face is seen and which does not look back, for God is dead.
It took the church some 400 years to dare to portray Christ on the cross, on the door of Santa Sabina Church in Rome. It took another 500 years before we dared to show him dead on the cross.
- So does this bring us any closer to naming this Friday good?
- How does staring at the body and face of Jesus, dead on the cross, help us?
It is because of what the death of Jesus accomplishes for us. In both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels, at the death of Jesus, he utters a loud cry, and breathes his last. The curtain of the temple is torn in two – the curtain which separated the presence of God from the people of God.
In the death of Jesus, everything that separated us from gazing upon the very face of Christ has been removed. All our sin; all our shame – has been removed, because of the cross. When we gaze upon the cross, we see Jesus stripped for our gaze, thirsting for our love – and we in turn are stripped as well, able to be gazed upon by him. When Jesus was baptised, witnesses heard the voice of the Father declare: “This is my beloved Son in whom I delight.”
On the cross, the delight that was shared between the Father and the Son, the mutual pleasure which is at the very heart of the Trinity, is now fully shared with us as well. We gaze at Christ, and he gazes at us. He invites us to now come into the very heart of the temple, into the very worship of God – as an equal. For there is no Christian love without equality. Because of the cross, we are now able to share in the very life of God. Fragile and fumbling though we be, the Lord redeems us, and the Lord delights in us. This Friday is rightly called Good, because through his cross, Jesus has saved the world. And we, in our turn, now have the privilege of opening ourselves in joy, as true sons and daughters of God. On this Good Friday, when we venerate the cross of our salvation, let us allow Jesus to gaze back at us, and invite us to come more deeply into a true relationship with him. We are saved through the cross; but we live in the power of the risen Lord.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 3pm Good Friday (7’56”)
In between the Passion according to John and my reflection, I played the Dan Stever’s video Son of Man.