Our Crucified, Eucharistic Lord, Good Friday, March 25, 2005

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Good Friday
March 25, 2005
Is 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42

1) On the Cross today, Jesus shouted the dramatic words, “It is finished!” The question is: What does this “it” refer to? What was finished? The answer to that question will help us to grasp one of the realities Pope John Paul II wants every Catholic to experience this year.

2) Last October, our Holy Father asked all Catholics to live an “intensely Eucharistic Year,” and to look at each of the aspects of our faith with a Eucharistic key. Christ in the Eucharist is meant to be the “source and summit,” the “beginning and the end,” and “root and center” of everything in the faith. Therefore, as we with Catholics throughout the world mark the solemn day of the Lord’s crucifixion and death, we will try to look at it with Eucharistic lenses. Doing so will not only allow us to appreciate the Eucharist more, but also to appreciate Good Friday more.

3) On the Cross, Jesus exclaimed “It is finished!,” not as a vanquished foe suppliant on his knees, but as a conquering hero on his wooden throne about to inaugurate an eternal kingdom. Jesus was, in essence, crying “Mission Accomplished! The “it” in “it is finished” refers in general, of course, to his entire salvific mission, but it refers in a special way to the culmination of his saving work which will celebrate during this Sacred Triduum. Jesus spent his entire life preparing for these days. He had come from heaven to earth with the task to inaugurate the new and eternal covenant between God and man. He was going to do by building on the first Covenant God had made with his people. God had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt on that first Passover, making them consume the flesh of an unblemished lamb and wiping its blood on their doorframes. In the new and eternal covenant, Jesus was to be that Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God. His likewise needed to be consumed and his blood needed to drip all over the cruciform wooden key that unlocked the door to heaven.

4) Through Moses, God gave the Jews in generations subsequent to the exodus a rite by which they could enter into the dramatic event of the Passover of their forefathers. The celebrated it each year with great attention to detail: what they were to wear, what they were to say, how they were to clean their houses, prepare and cook the food were all prescribed by God. It was within that rite of that old covenant that Jesus instituted the new. Scripture scholars, in looking at the Gospel narratives from the point of view of the Jewish seder, however, have noted with curiosity and a certain astonishment that Jesus did not finish the rite. There are supposed to be four cups of wine, consumed at different times. Jesus and his disciples only drank three before they went out toward the Garden of Gethsemane. The question is: What happened to the fourth cup? Most believe the fourth cup was the “cup of suffering” foretold by the prophets that Christ would drink on the Cross. That the fourth cup was consumed on the Cross seems likely, because of what Jesus himself did immediately before pronouncing that “it is finished.” Jesus first said, “I thirst.” St. John tells us what happened next: “A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When he had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” (Jn 19:28-30). Jesus had said during the Last Supper, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mk 14:25). If Jesus were drinking wine now, it must be that he was fully inaugurating that kingdom, which was the culmination of his work. It was his “it.”

5) Jesus finished the Last Supper on the Cross. It was on the Cross that he put into body language what he proclaimed in the Upper Room: “This is my body, given for you.” It was on the Cross that he himself BECAME the fourth cup, “the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, to be shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.” The connection between the Eucharist and Good Friday is that tight. We receive in the Eucharist the body which hung upon the Cross for our salvation; we receive the same blood that dripped from his head, his hands, his feet, his side. The only thing that is different is that in the Eucharist, Jesus’ veils his body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

6) Jesus’ entire life was geared toward the celebration of the Eucharist, both in the Upper Room, and on the Cross. His sacrifice on the Cross — the sacrifice in which we share at every Mass — is where he showed the greatest love of all, the love of one who lays down his life not just for his friends, but for those who have made themselves his enemies (cf Jn 15:13). It was the Eucharist which he said he had “eagerly desired” to eat with his apostles (Lk 22:15). It was the Eucharist which he commissioned them on the night before he died to take throughout the world. This is the way more than any other he wanted his saving work to be proclaimed, saying during the Last Supper, “Do THIS in memory of me.”

7) Often Christians, hearing the Passion account as we did tonight, can ask themselves: What would I have done had I been alive on that first Holy Thursday and Good Friday? Would I have stuck by Jesus’ side when they came for him in the Garden? Would I have admitted I was his disciple if others recognized me in the high priest’s courtyard? Would I have been a solitary voice in Pontius Pilate’s praetorium, crying out “Give me Jesus!,” “Release unto me, Jesus!” or would I have joined the mob in preferring Barabbas and asking for Christ’s crucifixion? Would I have loved Jesus enough to come back to him and be present at the foot of the Cross with his mother and the saints?

8 ) It is, of course, impossible for us to know how we would have reacted that day, whether our weak flesh would have triumphed over our willing spirits — as it did with most of Jesus’ disciples (cf. Mt 26:41) — or whether we would have been faithful to him, like Mary, Mary Magdalene and John. But there is one way that we can get a glimpse, a realistic approximation, of how we would have reacted then: by looking at how we react now — not to the Lord’s emptying himself to die as a criminal on a cross — but to the even greater humiliation of his becoming our food under the appearances of bread and wine. This is the same Jesus. And how we treat him NOW is an indication of how we would have treated him THEN.

9) Jesus in the Eucharist is still a “sign of contradiction,” as Simeon had prophesied at his childhood presentation (Lk 2:34). Many respond to him with great faith and treat him as he deserves. But others betray him. We can contrast these two reactions to Jesus in the Eucharist, by drawing on two examples from the Passion narratives. The first is the betrayal of Judas; the second is the fidelity of Mary.

10) We begin with Judas and his reaction to the Eucharist. Many think Judas betrayed Christ because he was greedy and a thief. But his betrayal began the day Jesus, one year before the Last Supper, prophesied that he would give us the Eucharist, and that we had to eat his flesh and drink his blood (Jn 6:27-71). That statement caused many of Jesus’ disciples — for whom he had labored so hard over the past two years to bring to the truth, to bring to salvation — to leave Jesus, thinking he was some type of cannibalistic lunatic. Jesus didn’t run after them to remonstrate, “I was only speaking symbolically” or anything of the sort, because Jesus knew that they had heard him appropriately but just were not willing to accept the reality of the Eucharist. Instead, Jesus turned to those who were closest to him, the twelve, and asked them if they, too, wanted to leave. After a period of silence, Simon Peter stood up and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” He had given the response of faith; he had no idea how Jesus would give them his flesh and blood to eat — it would make sense one year later during the Last Supper — but he did know that Jesus had the words of eternal life and that he would trust in those words.

11) Judas, however, even though he didn’t leave Jesus like the other disciples did, didn’t believe in Jesus like Peter and the other apostles did. St. John tells us this much in the Gospel account. He states that Jesus “knew from the first who were the ones who did not believe and who was the one who would betray him.” And Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” And St. John tells us, “He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.” Much like the fall of Lucifer occurred because he couldn’t handle the thought of the Son of God’s becoming man and rejected it, so Judas could not handle Jesus’ incarnation in the Eucharist and determined then to betray Christ. That betrayal came during the first Eucharist, one year later, when Jesus showed how we would be able, through the miracle of transubstantiation, to eat his body and drink his blood. Present at that first Eucharist was one who not only didn’t believe, but was ready to betray Jesus. He left before that first Mass was done.

12) There are those today who continue to be scandalized by the Eucharist, who won’t accept God’s humility. They cannot accept that God would want to feed us and that he would “eagerly desire” that we come to Mass worthy to be fed. They’ll say on their own — much like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day — that they, rather than Jesus, know the way God should be worshipped. They’ll downplay the importance of the Mass, which means that they will also be therefore downplaying the importance of the Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and all that those meant. Even if they come to Mass out of a sense of obligation, as Father Tom was describing last night, many are present just in body, with their hearts from away from a true loving communion with Christ and his sacrifice. They may even leave Mass early, as Judas did. Just as Judas accounted Jesus less valuable than 30 pieces of silver, so others can account Jesus less valuable than a better Saturday night’s sleep, or round of golf, or a heartier breakfast, or another day’s pay — or any of the other excuses people sometimes proffer for not coming to Mass. Barabbas can come in any of those disguises. The questions that the Pope wants us to ask ourselves on this Good Friday are: “Do I take Christ in the Eucharist for granted, like so many too his person for granted on that first Good Friday?” “Am I faithful to Christ in the Eucharist?” “Am I willing even to die for Christ in the Eucharist?” Anything short of a willingness to die for Christ in the Eucharist is already a sign that we would be willing to betray Christ is the cost of fidelity became too high.

13) The other model for us to study in relation to the Eucharist on this Good Friday is the Blessed Mother. Unlike Judas, she was faithful to her Son to the end. There’s an extremely moving scene in Mel Gibson’s masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ. Right after Christ was brutally scourged and the lectors dragged his limp, lacerated body, Mary and Mary Magdalene with white towels wiped up all of Jesus’ blood left in pools on the stones of the flagellation courtyard. She knew the value of that precious blood! Every drop of it was worth the whole world. She shows us how never to take Christ for granted, that no matter how transfigured his appearance, no matter how small the particle of his body or drop of his blood, it is Christ and deserves to be loved to the end.

14) The Pope describes Mary’s whole life as an “anticipated Eucharist,” a spiritual communion with Christ’s self-sacrificial gift of himself in love. Her communion was likewise always sacrificial. When Simeon prophesied at Jesus’ presentation that he would become a sign of contradiction, he also said to Mary, “and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” That sword was unsheathed when Jesus was a still a boy, hunted down by assassins before he was even two. That sword was present when he was 12 and lost for three days in the Temple area. It was present when the citizens of Nazareth wanted to throw Jesus off the precipice of his home town. It was present still at the Cross, as Mary presented her beloved Son once again to the Father. To share in the Mass, she shows us we have to share in the Cross. It was from the Cross that Mary received another annunciation, this time not from Gabriel, but from the lips of her first born Son: “Woman, behold your Son!” Jesus gave Mary to all of us as our mother, and gave all of us to her as sons. Her mission was to raise us to be like Christ, to be faithful to him, to treasure the gift he is, to nourish his own life within us. Just as assuredly as Mary placed her first born son in the manger, so Mary gathers all her other children under the Cross. That was the secret to St. John’s fidelity — the only one of the first group of priests to remain faithful to Christ the day after his ordination. He remained with Mary under the foot of the Cross, because she is always the guide to fidelity to Christ.

15) And because Mary always gathers her children under the Cross, she therefore always gathers us in the Mass, where she teaches us how to unite ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice, not by fleeing the cross and soul-piercing swords, but by associating them with Christ and his saving mission. She herself is present at every Mass, bringing us into the heart of the Mass, showing us how to pray it, how to value it as the greatest of all gifts. She was present at the Masses celebrated by her Son’s apostles, as she received within her in Holy Communion the same Jesus she carried in her womb more than three decades before. And the Pope has said that she shows us to say a full “Amen!” to this reality when we receive her Son within us, for our “amen!” is called to echo her “fiat!” to God’s whole plan. John Paul II says that Christ in the Eucharist is meant to be the “magnetic pole” of our whole existence. Christ was for Mary. And she can help her Son become that magnetic pole for us.

16) Today on Good Friday she is with us, helping us to be strong and faithful to the Lord under the Cross. She is the one who will help us to be faithful to him throughout our lives, by treasuring him in the Eucharist just as she treasured him within her womb. In the early Church, St. Jerome calculated (on the basis of the lunar calendar and when the 14th of the month of Nisan occurred) that the date of Jesus’ crucifixion was March 25th. This is relevant not just because today is March 25th, but more importantly because March 25th is also the day on which the Church has always celebrated Christ’s incarnation in Mary’s womb. Whether or not St. Jerome’s dating is accurate is beside the point. It raises again the intrinsic connection between the incarnation of Christ in Mary’s womb, his taking on a human body from her to give it for us on the Cross, and our receiving of that very same body in Holy Communion. It is in the Mass that Jesus’ whole work, from his incarnation through his passion, death and resurrection, is finished!

17) And so today we finish with the words of one of the greatest Eucharistic hymns of all time, which combines all three of these elements — Christ’s incarnation, his suffering on the Cross, and his real presence with us today in the Eucharist — into one beautiful whole.

• Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine — Hail, True Body, Born of the Virgin Mary
• Vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine — Which truly suffered, sacrificed on the Cross for man

• Cuius latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine — Whose pierced side flowed with blood and water

• Esto nobis praegustandum mortis examine — Be for us an antidote and the struggle of our death.

• O Iesu, dulcis, O Iesu pie, O Iesu, Filii Mariae! — O sweet Jesus, o merciful Jesus, O Jesus, Son of Mary!

Help us, on this Good Friday and through the Communion we’re about to receive, to learn how to love like you!