For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Good Friday comes to us each year with a nearly unbearable weight of remembered pain. We know what will happen. The desperate human heart that always longs for salvation, despite its knowledge of the end of tragedy, longs to change the ending, to move it from death to rescue. How many times have we wished for the same when watching Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, or Hamlet? We want to shout to the protagonist, âNo, no, donât believe the lie. Donât kill yourself. There is hope yet to come if you only donât give in, if you only stay alive.â
When Judas comes into the garden for the arrest, we want to cry out, âHow can you, Judas? Go back, donât betray the one who loves you.â When Pilate acknowledges that Jesus is without the guilt of political insurrection, we cry out, âWhy then did you have him flogged? Why are you allowing them to choose Barabbas instead of this innocent man? Why do you give in to the cries of âCrucify himâ?â
And even as we weep at the injustice, we know that nothing can possibly change what came to pass in that distant first century. And we are sad but grateful. What if it hadnât happened? What if Jesus had not been arrested, unjustly condemned, and crucified? Would he have lived a fairly long life only to be remembered as a good man?
It is the tragedy of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday that assured the cosmos that Jesus would never be forgotten, no matter how misunderstood he was during his lifetime and in the centuries that have rolled since then. Every year during Holy Week, we read these two chapters in St. Johnâs gospel marveling at their simplicity, at the quiet unfolding of the greatest drama in humanityâs history, at the startling details, at the dignity of the prisoner and the folly of those accusing him, and we wait for the unbearable weight to be lifted, for the darkness to be dissolved, for us to reach Easter Sunday.
During these hours, between Thursday night and Sunday morning, as we reenact the tragedy of the Cross, we also need to be aware of other tragedies: we need to feel the weight of humanityâs sorrow, of the injustice being perpetrated against so many of our brothers and sisters around the world; we need to share the guilt of those who kill the innocent, we need to be made aware of those befriended by Jesus during his lifetime â the strangers, the outcasts, the unclean â and not avert our faces. We cannot experience the sorrow of Good Friday without experiencing humanityâs sorrow also. This is the meaning of this sacred night. The writer of Second Isaiah knew all this without actually knowing the story we reenact tonight.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
And carried our diseases ...
But he was wounded for our
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that
made us whole;
and by his bruises we are
How else can we, weak human beings, bear the sorrow we witness around us? How can we read newspapers and listen to the news of the world â so much deceit, so much injustice, so many killings, so many wars â without the assurance that God is suffering with us?
This is the night that gives meaning to what seems meaningless.
He was oppressed and he was
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the
By a perversion of justice he was
taken away ...
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in
All of you who mourn tonight, remember this: He too knows what suffering means. This is not a God removed from the world. Listen once again to the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews:
âFor we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.â