Before we begin… a few pointers to help you get the most from our celebration of Good Friday.
Firstly, it’s not just the person of Jesus that’s rejected, it is God’s truth! He is Truth in human flesh. It’s also Truth – absolute Truth – that’s rejected.
Secondly, I’d like you to notice in the opening lines of the Gospel that when they go to arrest Jesus they don’t know who they’re looking for. He’s not a big name in society!
Thirdly, I’d like you to notice that the State and the religious leaders do their best to get rid of Jesus, but in their best efforts to get rid of him they’re actually fulfilling God’s will! The wisdom of man is foolishness to God!
But most of all I’d like you to notice that Jesus suffering is redemptive. If you redeem something you give something away to get something back. God gave his Son to get us back… “to ransom a slave you gave away your son!” (Easter Proclamation: Exsultet).
This is the Mercy of God. Mercy is the heart of God and it’s the heart of the Gospel. Mercy means that there is ultimate Justice! For only if Justice has been transgressed can anyone be merciful. To put it in legal terms; only if a ‘law’ has been broken can anyone be merciful. So if God is merciful then there is an absolute law, God’s law, by which we are all judged.
If we think of what it means to be merciful ourselves we know that to be merciful costs. It’s difficult. Perhaps some of us are so hurt that we cannot be merciful, and if we are to be merciful it will be like crucifixion. There you have it… there you have it in your own experience; the seeds of the eternal. Therefore if God is to be merciful, God must suffer. Only if we live in a meaningless universe can it be otherwise – only in a world where words are empty and meaningless, meaning only whatever we want them to mean at any given time. But unknown to ourselves our words are approximations of eternity.
Here’s a way to get inside God’s Mercy. He died without sin for you. He died without sin on your behalf. Therefore you will die without sin if you allow Jesus Christ to ‘wash’ you. If he died without sin for you, that means you’ve done it! Put it this way: If you owe a debt and can’t pay, what happens? Now supposing someone else pays the debt on your behalf, what happens? You’re free! Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? How does he take them away? By taking them on himself.
Here’s an exercise for those who struggle with guilt and at the same time a lesson for those who think that there’s no sin at all – two extremes to be avoided, everything is a sin (broadly equates with the past) and nothing is a sin (broadly equates with the present): Focus on the figure of Christ crucified on the Cross… Now imagine him calling your name… “Paddy, Paul – whatever your name – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.”
When that comes as grace, you’ll cry!