- Sr Louise PDDM
Who is hanging on the Cross today? Who is it? An innocent man, wrongly condemned? A great man, put to death by the small-minded? A radical free thinker, cornered by conservatives? The Incarnate Word of God, suffering for us?
How we identify Jesus Christ entirely determines our experience of Good Friday. For a Catholic, standing in the heart of the Church, the identity of Jesus is clear. In fact, it’s proclaimed every Sunday: ‘I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father’.
If what we say in the Creed is true, whom are we looking at on the Cross? We’re looking at one of the Trinity, the Creator of all things, who holds all things in being, including each of us, including those who crucified him. In all of literature no greater irony has ever been imagined: the almighty God-man is overcome by mere humans, who themselves receive all their power from him. The One who ought to be ‘adored and glorified’ and set on a throne is instead pinned to a piece of wood and bleeds to death. The Liberator is bound. The Source of all life and colour and energy in the universe breathes his last, and leaves behind a grey corpse.
If we look at the Cross through the lenses of Christian orthodoxy, we see an unbelievable, unimaginable event, a theo-drama which renders us awestruck. Humanity has never seen anything like this. In all our religious and philosophical imaginings, we have never conceived of anything like this.
In the liturgies of the Church, East and West, the extraordinary nature of the crucifixion is powerfully expressed, nowhere more so than in the 15th antiphon of Good Friday matins (held on Holy Thursday evening) in the Byzantine liturgy. This is the song which introduces the veneration of the Cross, and it places the crucifixion in the full context of Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy.With equal parts sorrow and amazement, the cantor intones:
'Today he was hung upon a tree, He who hung the earth upon waters,
A crown of thorns was placed on the king of the angels,
He who wrapped the heavens with clouds was wrapped in a purple robe of mockery,
He who freed Adam in the Jordan was struck,
The bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails,
And the Son of the Virgin was pierced with a spear'.
The antiphon concludes, ‘We kneel before your Passion, O Christ’. In the presence of the Cross, this is all the awestruck Christian can do.
- Br Conor OP
He is lifted up on a tall tree, and a placard is attached to show who has been murdered [executed]. Who is it? To say is hard and not to say yet more fearful. Listen then, shuddering at him through whom the earth shook.
He who hung the earth is hanging. He who fixed the heavens in place has been fixed in place. He who laid the foundations of the universe has been laid on a tree. The master has been profaned. God has been murdered.
For this reason the great lights turned away, and the day was turned to darkness; to hide the one denuded on the tree, obscuring not the body of the Lord but human eyes.For when the people did not tremble, the earth shook. When the people did not fear, the heavens were afraid. When the people did not rend their garments, the angel rent his own. When the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high gave voice.- Edited Br Columba OSB
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. My offenses truly I know them; my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done. That you may be justified when you give sentence and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt was I born, a sinner was I conceived. Indeed you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. O purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness, that the bones you have crushed may revive. From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt. A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me, that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you. O rescue me, God, my helper, and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.
For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse; my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.
In your goodness, show favor to Zion: rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice, holocausts offered on your altar.