March 29, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

On the Cross, Jesus bears our infirmities, endures our suffering

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Today we celebrate Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday). It is a day of immense sorrow and pain, but it is also a day that makes possible true freedom and great joy.

In the second reading for Good Friday (Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9), we read that our Lord understands our human weaknesses: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

Jesus suffered and died for us—a statement that we dare not take lightly, especially today. The cruel humiliation and brutal torture he suffered, and the painful death that he endured, were undertaken freely for our sakes. They were a punishment that he did not deserve, but which he accepted as an expiation for sins committed by me and you, and by every human being ever born.

The dictionary defines “expiation” as the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing, atonement. We celebrate today—in a bittersweet way—the atonement for our sins that God’s only Son made by dying on a cross for us.

In the first reading for Good Friday (Is 52:13-53:12), the prophet Isaiah foretells this act of divine expiation:

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. (Is 53:4-6)

The tragedy of our selfishness and sin is described clearly by Isaiah when he says that we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his or her own way.

In spite of our individual and collective guilt, God did not condemn us or give up on us. Jesus chose to bear the burden of our sins on his own shoulders and to suffer the consequences of our guilt in his own body. “Because of his affliction,” Isaiah says, “he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear” (Is 53:11).

The Gospel reading for the Good Friday service is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (18:1-19:42). It is the familiar but disturbing story of an honest man’s betrayal by his closest friends. St. John tells us in simple, direct language that Jesus went willingly to his unjust trial and cruel sentencing to death on a cross.

In the words of Isaiah:

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth. Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, and who would have thought any more of his destiny? When he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people, a grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood. But the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity. (Is 53:7-10)

Jesus submitted willingly, although with the great anxiety revealed by his intense agony in the Garden of Olives the night before he was captured and cruelly executed.

Why did our Lord go willingly to his passion and death? It was his Father’s will, the reason he became man in the first place. And, as a consequence of his obedience unto death, the prophet Isaiah tells us, “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him” (Is 53:10).

Good Friday is the culmination of our observance of the 40 days of Lent. It should be the climactic moment in our spiritual journey with Jesus. To be authentic disciples of Jesus, we must take up our individual crosses and follow him. This is the only way to Easter joy: the Way of the Cross.

May our remembrance of his suffering and death be a source of repentance, healing and rebirth. May his acceptance of pain and death for our sakes inspire us to live as he did and to give ourselves completely to the love of God and neighbor that Jesus taught us by his words and example. It is the only way to experience everlasting happiness and peace.

A blessed Good Friday celebration to all. †

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