Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018

Homily for Good Friday, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we have just listened to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as it is recounted in the Gospel of St John. All of us here are very familiar with this gospel passage having heard it many times before. How are we to listen to it with the ear of heart today?

We are listening to the Passion in the context of the Paschal Triduum. We have already recalled Christ’s Last Supper and we know that late on Saturday night we will celebrate his Resurrection. So, as I remarked last night, we are not trying to suspend what we know; we are not trying to pretend that we do not know about the resurrection, but rather we are listening to the Passion today in the light of the Risen Christ and this shapes our patterns of thought.

Holy Mother Church has taken a hand in the shaping of our thoughts because she has asked us to read and understand this Gospel in the context of other passages from the Sacred Scriptures and in the context of a particular liturgy. Today the first reading is from the prophet Isaiah and this passage introduces us to two themes: firstly, to the idea of an innocent man suffering on account of the sins of a whole people and then, secondly, a complex of ideas concerning a man who has been killed seeing his heirs, having a long life and seeing the light. After the prophecy of Isaiah we listened to verses extracted from the thirtieth psalm. The concluding verses emphasise the confidence of a person who is suffering, a confidence founded in their belief and trust in God. Finally the reading from the letter to the Hebrews emphasises the priesthood of Christ, a priesthood which makes his self-offering the source of eternal life for all who obey him and follow in his footsteps. As we reflect on these readings and interpret the Passion narrative in their light we should come to realise that the Church believes that Christ is that innocent man who suffers on account of the sins of all mankind; Christ is the man who has placed all His trust in God the Father; Christ is the Son of God who is our High Priest offering Himself to the Father; Christ it is who sees His heirs and invites them to see the light as He sees the light of His Father.

I suspect that each one of us here is well acquainted with sin. We may not be earth-shattering sinners: indeed it is more than likely that we are mediocre sinners – but we all know the human experience of sin. Sin is apt to enslave. Good Friday is the moment when we remember that this does not have to be the case: Jesus Christ our Lord died to take on himself the burdens of our sin setting us free. But what does he set us free to do? Are we simply free to sin again? Surely not! Are we being set free so that we feel deep shame and guilt on account of the suffering that we have imposed on Christ? I suggest that this is an erroneous understanding of the Passion. Shame and guilt are essentially sterile emotions, a quagmire that will drag us down. Our reading of the Passion should not lead to shame and guilt but rather to a deep appreciation of what Jesus has done for us. We can arrive at this deep appreciation by asking why it was that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was prepared to become a human being; why He was prepared to experience human birth, human life and human death? He did not experience these things so as to make us ashamed; no, He experienced these things to show us the depth of the love that God has for you and for me. If we are in any way touched by that love then we are called to conversion of heart and mind, a conversion of life; and that conversion in turn calls us to prayer and adoration. If you now look at the remainder of our liturgy you will understand that it follows precisely this structure: we heard first the Word of God, and now we move to prayer, intercession, for the needs of this community and of the world; and then adoration of the one who has set us free from our bondage to sin when we come to venerate the Cross and receive Holy Communion.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, John’s Gospel has given us an historical account of the suffering and death of our saviour Jesus Christ; the prophet Isaiah, the thirtieth psalm and the letter to the Hebrews have allowed us to understand and interpret that history in the light of the Risen Christ: now let us now offer our hearts and minds that they may be remade; and as a sign of that remaking in progress let us turn to God in prayer and adoration in the last parts of this Solemn Liturgy.