ALMIGHTY God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
What is good about today?
What can be good about a man dying a cruel death on a cross?This is the question of course that a non-believer or a new believer might ask about the liturgical name for today’s celebration. It seems incongruous to put together crucifixion and goodness.
But that is exactly what our Christian faith does.
Now, of course, our Faith is not teaching us that crucifying someone can in some circumstances be a good thing in itself. The act of crucifying is a wicked act. Those who performed it did a wicked thing. Those who authorised the act of crucifying did an even more wicked thing. And those who persuaded the man in authority to allow this to occur did a very wicked thing. By saying Jesus’ crucifixion is actually a great good we are not condoning the wickedness that led to it and the wickedness involved in performing it.
Nevertheless today we call good! Today is good not because of what men did but because of what Christ did. That’s an important distinction to appreciate. It is a great and good day because we focus on Christ and understand it as Christ understood it.
During Holy Week there are dark and evil moments. The darkest moment was arguably on Holy Tuesday. On Holy Tuesday we remembered the final consent Judas gave to the suggestion that had come to his mind that he should betray Jesus. St John, in his gospel, tells us that the idea to betray Jesus was in fact a demonic suggestion by Satan himself.
Now as we all know we all can have wicked thoughts. Some of those wicked thoughts are generated by us – by our own inner life. Some of those wicked thoughts come from the world around us. Some of those wicked thoughts though come from fallen angels, the demons. And principle amongst them is of course Satan. So, St John tells us Satan made the suggestion in Judas’ conscious thoughts. Such a suggestion can happen to any of us, by the way. It doesn’t mean we are bad. Our Lord Himself received demonic suggestions/temptations in the desert. But Judas began his wickedness by acting upon that suggestion to betray Jesus. However, the really dark moment occurred in the gospel of Holy Tuesday when we heard that Jesus revealed who would betray him to St John, the beloved disciple, through the handing of the morsel after dipping it. In that moment Judas gave total consent to betraying Jesus to His enemies who would do away with Him. And in that moment Judas became possessed by Satan because of Judas’ total consent in the act of doing away with Jesus.
This was in fact the darkest and most evil moment because Judas was one of the Twelve Jesus had chosen.Judas had believed in Jesus. He had witnessed the miracles of Jesus. He had responded to Jesus’ call. He had followed Jesus when many had fallen away. He had been raised to the great dignity of being one of the Twelve. He knew who Jesus was!
His fall began through sin. St John tells us Judas had been stealing from the common purse. Judas, despite everything, had given into the temptation of stealing money for selfish gain. Sin builds on sin. It starts small and gets bigger unless we repent. By consenting to smaller secret sins it became harder for Judas to resist temptation to greater things. In secret Judas began slipping down a terrible slope which ended in consenting to the greatest sin, that of killing God incarnate – which resulted in Satan taking possession of Judas. St John in his gospel puts it over in three words: “it was night.” Yes, outwardly the sun had fallen below the horizon. But great darkness had occurred because of the fall of Judas one of the Twelve.
So let us return to the final outworking of Judas’ betrayal of his Lord – to the crucifixion on Good Friday. And the next thing we need to understand is that God allows evil to occur. God does not want evil to occur but permits it to occur. This is because God has given angels and men free will. He cannot just stop evil occurring because it would contradict His gift of free will. So, we come to the Redemption – the revelation of how God conquers evil, conquers sin and its consequence death without taking away free will.
God began revealing this plan all the way back at the time of the Exodus under Moses – and it is what the Jews celebrated in the Passover. Lambs were sacrificed, their blood poured out, stopped the Jews from the plague of death and they were delivered from the death of slavery in Egypt. God began revealing that His plan to save sinners was through sacrifice. Through Moses God decreed that worship of Him would always involve sacrifice. For the Jews it involved the bloody sacrifice of animals and the unbloody sacrifice of grain or bread. All of this was pointing towards Good Friday. Jesus, God made man, would become the final sacrificial victim, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins not just of the Jews but of the world.
It is revealed to us from God after the first sin by Adam and Eve, that the consequence of sin is not just suffering and hardship but death. The locus of sin is towards death always. We see this in Judas’ fall. God’s way of deliverance from sin is through sacrifice, and He reveals, through the prophey of Isaiah, it is through God’s innocent suffering servant becoming a victim. Jesus is this innocent victim. Death is the ultimate locus of all sin, and God conquers sin by allowing the only innocent man to enter into the consequence of sin, by entering into death. Jesus willingly allows Himself to do His Father’s will by becoming the sacrificial victim, by becoming the lamb of God. Satan thinks God has made a great mistake in becoming a vulnerable and weak man. God knows that through self-emptying humility, redemption will happen. Evil does its worst and falls into its own trap! Christ allows Himself to become the victim of our sins, He pays the price of our sin, but because He is sinless and doesn’t therefore deserve death, death is overturned! Death, which is the consequence of sin, is defeated because God the Son enters it; and therefore, also the Cross becomes the means of defeating sin.
Today is Good Friday because the Cross of Jesus is not the revelation of evil, it is the revelation of divine love – and in this divine love on the cross both sin and death are defeated.
The sacrifice of Jesus in divine love on the Cross is our Redemption and the heart of all the Sacraments of the Church. The power of all the Sacraments, and the power and the authority of the Church, all come from this Cross – and most especially the Holy Mass. There is an error abroad that the Mass is mainly about the Last Supper when friends gathered together for a last meal. It is an error that Protestants unfortunately believe (I know because I was a Protestant). The Mass is everything to us Catholics because its power comes from the Cross and the sacrifice of Jesus which is the revelation of divine love. The Mass is sacrifice most of all because it brings the fruit of the Cross to us; it brings to us Christ Himself offering Himself to us. Christ the Victim offering Himself and coming to us under the outward appearance of bread and wine. This is what divine love is: total offering, total obedience, total gift.