Good Friday 2024

A Reflection on Good Friday by Fr Kevin O’Gorman SMA

Today’s liturgy is simple, even stark. The altar is stripped, the tabernacle left open. There is no pomp, certainly no ceremony in the sense we celebrate feasts and festivals. The presider enters and exits in silence. If the setting is sombre, how much more the subject – the celebration of the Passion of Jesus called the Christ. In the Liturgy of the Word we look on, listen to Jesus present as Prophet, Priest and King. These are not three offices he filled or functions that he fulfilled. Prophet, Priest and King pertain to the person of Christ and his relationship to God and us.

Isaiah’s man of sorrows does not speak. He never opened his mouth…like a lamb that is led to the slaughter house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth. He is without anyone [to] plead his cause. It seems that Jeremiah has joined Jonah in the whale of wordlessness where even Job is reduced to silence. We expect our prophets to pronounce and protest, even sometimes to the point of rage.  In his passion Jesus appears as a strange kind of prophet, even more unsettling than usual. The uniqueness of Jesus undermines our understanding of the prophet and what the prophet undertakes. The wisdom of Christ the prophet is not confined to words but communicated above all in weakness. As Paul reminded the Corinthians at the close of his second letter to them, he was crucified in weakness.

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ the supreme high priest. Set against the background of the Jewish temple and the liturgy of the day of atonement it presents Jesus as entering the true sanctuary and effecting our reconciliation. The last line in the first reading – he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners – leads into the link between sin and salvation, prayer and priesthood. As priest he is the prophet who prays his own offering once for all (Heb 9:12), obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). Beset with weakness, (in the words of the Revised Standard Version), Jesus is willing to take the wickedness and woes of the world upon him, praying for both suffering and sinful humanity. ‘The mediator of a new covenant’ (12:24) he communicates the mystery and mercy of God by calling us to communion and conferring compassion.

Crucifixion scene in the SMA Cemetery, Wilton. Cork – photo Paul O’Flynn

So you are a king then?’  Pilate’s rhetorical question is only slightly less cynical than his ‘Truth. What is that?’ An understated prophet, Jesus is an even more unlikely king. Borne by a beast of burden, crowned with thorns and carrying his own cross as a public criminal condemned to die in the most cruel manner, we are forced to convert our image of Kingship and the ideology of rule. The signs of his power are humility not hubris, service not snobbery, solidarity not superiority.  Almost anonymously he is the king who answers the question of identity ‘In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40).

Even our romantic myths about monarchy are made to stand on their head, like upturned thrones and tiaras. He is not the rex quondam, rex futurus –the once and future king fantasised in the story of Camelot and King Arthur. The kingship of Christ is not a myth or a mere mention in a line of succession but a metaphor of God’s mission for the world. The realism of John’s Gospel, the revelatory record of the Word made flesh, reminds us that Jesus is exalted, not extinguished on the cross. The prophet of weakness pours out blood and water from his priestly pierced heart. This king is victorious over death, not vanquished by the powers of darkness.

Teaching through what John V. Taylor called ‘the undefeated heart of weakness’, sanctifying us through suffering and reigning over us through his glorious resurrection from death we must attach ourselves to Christ our Saviour on the cross. He is our healing, our holiness and our hope.




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