Category Archives: Good Friday

Jesus loves me this I know

Good Friday
Les Ruhrmund

Crucifixion was a familiar method of execution used by the Romans at the time of Jesus and was an excruciatingly painful procedure resulting in a slow and agonising death. It was for this very reason that it was used as a deterrent to would be traitors and criminals. We’re told by historians that many of the soldiers who were tasked to carry out crucifixions were traumatised by the experience and would fortify themselves with wine beforehand.

Jesus says to us from the cross this afternoon: You have tortured me and put me through this most terrible suffering, yet I love you. There is nothing you can do in this world that would change my love for you. The Father says to us: Do you believe now how much I love you? My beloved son has died so that you may live with me in God’s kingdom.

Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, there was no access to the kingdom. Human creation was completely cut off from God. None of the great people of scripture who proceeded Jesus were in the kingdom; not Abraham nor Isaac, nor Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, nor any of the other great prophets; not even John the Baptist had access to the Father’s kingdom. The Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the gateway to the Father and saved all humankind from eternal darkness. This is the greatest story ever told.

In John’s Passion we hear a variety of questions asked by different people who participated in the Passion of Jesus and I’d like to reflect simply on three of them:

“Who are you looking for? “Jesus asks twice.

“Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?” is the question that is twice put to Peter.

“So you are a king, then? “asks Pontius Pilate.

So who are we looking for?

Our answer is surely the same as the soldiers: Jesus of Nazareth. If that was not true, we wouldn’t be here this afternoon. In our own ways, for many different reasons we’re all looking for Jesus in our lives. His love sustains, nourishes, comforts and carries us as we struggle with our own crosses to our own Calvary and redemption. Few of us will get through this life without pain and suffering; be it emotional, physical or spiritual. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate pain and suffering; his crucifixion is proof enough of that. But Jesus has been there; he understands our fear and dread in the face of pain and death. We need Jesus in our lives. While the soldiers were looking to take Jesus into custody, we place ourselves in the custody of Jesus.

The second question is to Peter. Although he had sworn vehemently at supper the night before that he would never desert Jesus, when challenged, three times he insisted that he didn’t even know the man.  We can empathise with Peter given a stark choice of perhaps life and death but do we deny Jesus nevertheless though the stakes are not nearly as high?  In our homes, families, work places and recreation do we compromise our relationship with Jesus by saying and doing things that hurt others?  Are we the voice of Jesus, the voice of peace, in a grossly cruel and violent world?

We live in a world that is extensively connected through social media. We are able to communicate instantly with a great many people at the push of a button. Would it be obvious to anyone reading what we post on social media and our smart phones that we are another of that man’s disciples?

The third question is posed by Pilate.

Is Jesus king? Do we really believe that? King of our hearts, king of our lives?

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Those who will be welcomed into his kingdom will be recognised by how they fed the hungry and the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. Hunger may not necessarily be a shortage of food. It may be a hunger for love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness and understanding.  In the same way we don’t necessarily have to visit a jail to visit prisoners. Many are prisoners of loneliness, depression, addictions and abuse. They all cry out for the healing touch of Jesus that we as disciples can bring them.

We are challenged to show true allegiance to our king through our actions. Not ambition, greed and status, not pious words and conspicuous devotions, but quiet revolutionary work of making the world a better place in which to live; better because we have made it better.

Each of us stands alone before Jesus on the cross. We stare at his broken body that cries out in love for us. We know we are not worthy of his great sacrifice but we also know that he loves us in our imperfection.

He has chosen to travel the same journey all over again, in, through and with each one of us. No wonder we call this solemn feast “Good Friday”. What greater goodness could we know than that the cross of Jesus reveals that God is our companion at every step of life’s journey? A compassionate God who grieves with us when we despair and is a companion to us in our darkest days. He is the hope with which we look for the light of resurrection in all our lives.

The Mystery of Salvation

Good Friday
25th March 2016
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

In the Gospels, the story of Jesus’ mission falls into two main parts. The first half consists of his public ministry of preaching, healing and exorcising and the second half consists of his passion and death. Superficially Jesus appears almost as two different characters.

During his ministry he was outspoken, courageous, urgent. He proclaimed his message with the passion of the Old Testament prophets and often went out of his way to antagonise the religious leadership of the time, pouring scorn on their teachings and practices, constantly using them as examples of how not to relate to God. He was a man who was asking for trouble. But then there’s the other half of the picture, the part we see today: the Jesus of the Passion narratives.

Fully human, yet divine.

The contrast between the bold, fearless Jesus of the preaching ministry, and the broken, humiliated figure of the passion is very vivid. Now the image is of the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter, an outcast figure, punished for the faults of others. Fr. James Martin SJ, in his book, Jesus A Pilgrimage, describes at length how fully human Jesus is in His emotions as He faces his inevitable torture and death. But of course for the members of the first Christian communities and for the gospel writers, Jesus is God incarnate in the hour of his suffering and defeat just as much as in days of his successes and triumphs.

In one sense, more so, and this is the heart of the mystery of our salvation. Jesus told his followers in advance that his mission could not be accomplished solely through the prophetic preaching and the prophetic signs and miracles of his ministry: he told them that the Son of Man would have to suffer and die to complete his work on earth.

In the religious leaders who plotted Jesus’ death, in the mob that demanded Jesus be crucified while calling for Barabbas to be freed, in the disciples who thought first of their own safety and abandoned their leader to his fate, we’re not supposed to see a picture of the Jewish people of two thousand odd years ago. We’re supposed to see a reflection of ourselves – a picture of fallen human nature, which we all share, in every period of time, in every people and nation.

It is part of the message of the Gospel, isn’t it, that human nature is so wounded, our vision so distorted and our freedom so limited by sin, that when God’s Word does come into the world we fail to recognise it, we’re blind to it. Or worse: we do recognise goodness, truth, love, holiness when these qualities appear among us, but we consciously turn against them because we choose other, inferior, values and purposes.

The Passion story describes our predicament: When God comes before us we so often don’t welcome him and accept him. We turn our back on him and allow him to be crucified! But of course the Christian message is called Good News because even that doesn’t stop God from saving us – if I can use that word.

“To save” means to rescue, to liberate, to free. We’re not capable of freeing, liberating, rescuing ourselves. It required an initiative on God’s part, and this is where the symbolism of today’s second reading comes in: Jesus is the high priest.

By virtue of his priestly state he provides something that we cannot provide for ourselves. Jesus on the Cross: offers a sacrifice and achieves reconciliation between the all-holy God and sinful humanity, which we are not capable of offering and achieving by our own resources.

It is Saint John’s gospel most of all though, that shows how, behind the particular circumstances of Jesus’ life and passion and death, a larger cosmic drama is unfolding: God’s plan to rescue humanity from the predicament of sin is being worked out through the actions, and in spite of the actions of the baying mob, the disciples, the leaders, Caiaphas, Pilate. We should never forget the concrete historical circumstances of Jesus’ death: a good, honest man, unjustly executed by the influential people who felt their position threatened by his message.

The actions and motives of a sinful humanity couldn’t hold back God’s plan: they even unwittingly contributed to its fulfilment. That’s one part, at least, of the whole mystery of our salvation which Christ’s Passion, according to Saint John, has put before us today, Good Friday.

Good Friday 2015

3 April
Les Ruhrmund

A few weeks ago, the radical Islamic movement, ISIS, posted a video on the internet of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian men on a beach in Libya. Just before their throats were cut, many of these youngmen could be seen mouthing the words “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus is Lord.” The video finishes with a shot of the shallow waves lapping the beach stained red with their blood and the title of the video “A message in blood to the Nation of the Cross.” This is widely presumed to be a message directed at Christianity.

In his response to ISIS, Fr Barron, the Catholic evangelist, speaking on his Word on Fire website says “We hold up the cross as a taunt to you because we know that God’s love is greater than anything you’ve got.”

We are the people of the Cross.

The humanity of Jesus and the divinity of Christ meet on the Cross and in that unity is our salvation.Throughout the past 2000 years, tyrants and dictators have tried to eliminate followers of Jesus through violence and torture. But as Tertullian observed 1800 year ago, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

In the time of Jesus, the cross was a brutal weapon of terror. It was designed to frighten and dissuade people from opposing Roman rule.

It’s not surprising that the disciples of Jesus ran away and went into hiding after his arrest. They were afraid that they’d be next on the cross.

The things that we, people throughout the world, created in the image of God, can and do, do to each other are unspeakably awful and sometimes beyond our wildest understanding.

Fr Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, writer and often controversial theologian says that “Jesus’ body on the cross is a standing icon of what humanity is doing and what God suffers “with,” “in” and “through” us. It is both an external exposing and eternal holding of the Great Mystery. It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another. The cross is refusing to hate or needing to defeat the other because that would be to only continue the same pattern and reciprocate the violence.”

We live in a world fuelled by hatred, envy, intolerance and greed and while we may feel somewhat isolated from the major catastrophes of human barbarism, war, starvation, torture, abuse and oppression we don’t have to look far to see how capable we are of hurting each other.

Let’s look briefly at some of the characters in the Passion of Our Lord, and perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of our own hearts.

Judas betrayed Jesus because he didn’t meet his expectations and it’s easy for us to condemn him. But he didn’t know with certainty at that time that Jesus was God and that he would rise from the dead. We do know – and yet we betray him. We condemn people of different races, creeds, cultures and sexual orientation because they don’t meet our expectations.Jesus loves and died for them and asks us to do the same.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Simon Peter drew his sword to protect Jesus and he cut off a man’s ear but a few hours later in the courtyard of the high priest when he was asked the question “ Are you not a disciple?”he denied it fiercely. Do we not also blow hot and cold in our defence of Jesus,our faith, our Church and our discipleship?

The high priest challenged Jesus about his teaching. Do we not sometimes challenge the teachings of Christianity not on a solid ground of knowledge and understanding but rather because some teachings don’t suit our lifestyles or aspirations?

Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?”

We believe that Jesus is the Truth and that the Church has the responsibility to preserve, protect and proclaim that what Jesus revealed to us: about God, about life and about death. Do we accept that? Or do we only accept bits of the truth? What is the truth in our lives?

Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified even though he could not find fault with him. He bowed to public pressure that threatened his status and authority. When we’re under pressure to defend the divinity of Jesus, at home or in our places of work or study, do we duck and dive and hang him out to dry or do we speak up for him ?

The gospels tell us that the soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross. I wonder if he did this reluctantly or whether on seeing Jesus struggling he was moved to help him and the soldiers in grabbing him out of the crowd, made that possible. The lesson is that whether we follow Jesus reluctantly or willingly, we’re always walking in his footsteps. Perhaps there’s someone in our lives who is just waiting for us to invite them to walk with Jesus.

Historians tell us that it took four men to crucify someone; some to hold the victim down and others to hammer in the nails. We could be asking ourselves about the way in which we treat people in our lives. Are we holding them down and depriving them of their freedom in our actions, or lack of actions, in our criticisms and demands; or are we perhaps causing them pain; spiritual, psychological or physical?

On that Good Friday over 2000 years ago, we crucified the Son of God and God still loves us. His love is more powerful than anything that’s in the world. On the cross Jesus reveals, resolves and forgives us our sins; forgives us for hurting him and for hurting each other.

Let us never be ashamed or frightened to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.