10th April, 2020

Homily for Good Friday

Good Friday


10 APRIL 2020

Towards the end of the first letter of John, the author writes about three sources or witnesses to faith, the Spirit, the water and the blood (1 John 5:7-8). At the conclusion of the Passion according to St John, which has just been sung this afternoon, we have the same three witnesses, the Spirit, the water and the blood. They are bearing witness to the truth, the mystery and the meaning of Jesus’ death, but also and crucially for us, to the mystery of the coming to birth of the Church in the mystery of this death of the Lord.

At the moment of Jesus’ death, he cries that it is finished and his words have also the meaning of ‘it is accomplished’ and then he bows his head and gives up the Spirit. He gives up, or another possible reading, he ‘hands over the Spirit’. In John these little phrases are nearly always significant and have been long pondered by the author of the gospel. The last breath of Jesus becomes the first outpouring of the Spirit to the Church. It will be repeated in the resurrection according to John; then again Jesus will breathe on his disciples and will say to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.’ (John 20:22-23). God knows we need this forgiveness.

In John’s Passion account after this handing over of the Spirit, there is then the account of the piercing of Jesus’ side by the soldier’s lance. He has just died and the puncturing thus of his corpse could seem a casually vicious and gratuitous act, but again for the evangelist long pondering finds it as grace filled and grace giving. From his side come water and blood, baptism and the eucharist, the signs of the Church’s life which flows from this death of the Lord. As Isaiah prophesied in our first reading: ‘Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed’. There comes out from his side blood and water and it is a torrent of grace in the life of the Church. 

These are the three witnesses: the Spirit, the water and the blood that all agree in their testimony to Jesus and to our life of faith in the Church. After the piercing, John then says this: ‘This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well.’

This is all done to create the Church. And this Church is not just an abstract entity; it is composed of people, down the ages it comes to you and me and we hand it on as the sacred charge that it is. This is shown already in that otherprecious story which comes in the St John Passion just before the two I have mentioned – the giving of the Spirit and the piercing of the side – and this happens between Jesus, his mother and the beloved disciple. We too are beloved disciples of the Lord and we are invited to lay claim to the invitation offered. To his mother he says, this is your son, and to the beloved disciple, this is yourmother. We are invited to make a place for Mary in our home. In faith, nourished by the sacraments of faith with Mary and the saints, we are the Church and we make a place for this Church in our home. 

While in no way wishing to see the strange circumstances of these present days becoming a new normal, nonetheless we can maybe see the hand of God in them as we realize the importance of Christian homes and of the human heart as the home God so desires for his dwelling.

We will be reminded in the first reading of the Easter Vigil, the story of creationfrom the first chapter of Genesis, that on the sixth day, the Friday, God created mankind, man and woman. God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good. It was a good day, a good Friday, that God first created man in his own image, as a place, a home, a heart, where he could dwell and be at home. It was another Friday, another Good Friday, this sixth day, that God died for this creation, a wrecked creation, to make it good again and to restore it as a dwelling for himself, where he could again walk with us in the cool of the evening of the day.