Jesus made Himself very clear that this day would come. Numerous times he told his disciples, “the son of man is to be handed over, abused, mocked, and crucified; and on the third day He will rise.” Even more, “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple.”
And yet, despite the warnings, we could never be fully prepared for what we experience today. It is like the death of a loved one: no matter how long we see the inevitable coming, we cannot help but be devastated. And as we mourn our loved ones at their passing, so on this Good Friday we mourn our brother, Jesus Christ, through whom we are God's adopted children. We mourn by refraining from food in our Paschal Fast, by refraining from extra work around the house, by refraining from distractions of television / radio / etc., by refraining even from excess words. We cover our day with emptiness as a sign of the loss of one so dear to us. Alongside our silence, we let the words of our Liturgy today speak for us, we let our actions speak for us by gathering in this Church to pray, by adoring the cross of our salvation, by quietly thanking the Father for His merciful love, and by living that Cross every day.
As we go to die with Our Lord, we see that the mysterious actions Jesus performed at the Last Supper are fulfilled on Calvary. “Jesus loved his own in the world unto the very end,” we heard last night,” and now we see how abysmally tragic and dark was that end, how unbelievably deep is that love.
The cross makes little sense to us apart from the context of the Old Testament which we have recalled during this Triduum. Yesterday the symbol in the foreground is that of the Paschal Lamb, whom God used to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt through the blood on the doorposts and the water of the Red Sea. In Christ we see the new Lamb of God offered once for all, in every time and place, so that the Church can boldly declare: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”
And today we reflect on the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, who mysteriously bears our sins and heals us by his own wounds. As the spotless, unblemished lambs of the temple would expiate the sins of the people, so too does Jesus mysteriously take upon Himself the guilt we deserve. As an old Catechism put it, “Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt.” As we witness the horror of sin, we also mysteriously find the source of strength to overcome it.
As we mourn the death of our Lord Jesus, we cherish his dying words. In particular, we recall two of Christ's last phrases. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” the blood of this innocent victim chose not to be a cry for judgment like that of Abel, slain by his brother Cain. Rather, the Father hears the petition for mercy, and obliges the dying wish of the innocent Savior. This is why the horror of our sin is also the source of salvation.
Also, when Christ cries, “I thirst,” he does not shout simply for a drink; rather, he cries for that “drink” that the woman at the well alone could give: our conversion, our love, and our life of service. That thirst is quenched only by our embracing the Cross and the death of our sinful ways, by making the blood shed there effective in transforming our lives.
And when our Lord passes, he is pierced from his side, where the Church is born. The Blood and water which delivered the Israelites in Egypt now pours out from the sacrificed Lamb of God, and these realities are the source of two sacraments that give us new life in Christ: Baptism and the Eucharist. Thus, the cross is our salvation, our only hope, or as Rose of Lima puts it: Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.