Good Friday 30 March 2018
John 18:1 – 19:42
As the scope of today’s Gospel reading indicates, Good Friday is a time to reflect on the whole event of Jesus death. So rather than attempting comment on all of John 18:1 – 19:42, I will limit myself to some brief yet holistic comments. I will explore what I am calling in my hubris “the dichotomy of Good Friday”, that is the mystery of Jesus being both human and divine or if you like the mystery of death and life, or to paraphrase our Eucharistic liturgy, in order to live a grain of wheat must first die. While the events of the first Easter are horrific they seem necessary for us to share in a new beginning.
Christian faith acknowledges that the Pascal mystery, that is, the birth, life, death, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ is really a confrontation between the human and the divine and paints Jesus as an icon of faith, humanity, and divinity, and today we contemplate that segment of this mystery which deals with the message of Jesus’ death.
Humanity often finds it easier to understand a message when it is conveyed through a visual medium, an icon for example. It is through icons that faithful Russians were able to keep their religious tradition after the Russian revolution of 1917. Following the sacking of churches important icons were retained in galleries as “works of art” and it is in these galleries that babushka read the icons to children in order to keep their faith alive.
Similarly her in this place we have icons which depict the dichotomy of Good Friday and we should often pause for a moment and read them.
Behind me in the centre panel of the east window is an iconic crucifixion scene. We see the corpus upon the cross, slumped in death, the blackened sky hanging over Jerusalem, and the grieving people, this is the first lens of the Good Friday dichotomy.
The second lens appears in two other icons also in this place. They have been veiled during passiontide, as covering religious images during the height of Lent centres attention on the passion and death of Christ, the only images not covered are windows and the Stations of the Cross.
One of these icons is on the wall just outside the Church’s south door and was gifted to the Parish by the Franciscan Brothers of Stroud. It is a copy of the San Damiano Cross, a large Romanesque rood cross before which St. Francis of Assisi was praying when he is said to have received his commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church.
The second icon of this lens is just above the credence table, again behind me in the sanctuary. This icon is a Christus Rex, Christ the King, it is not a window or picture, but never the less an icon, that is an image.
Both of these crucifix icon types should be valued as the former reminds us of Jesus’ suffering, passion, and humanity while the latter reminds us of his divinity and glory. They inform us of our own earthly life, and hopefully glorious resurrection at Jesus’ Parousia.
Our first icon type in the east window, which incidentally is the later development of the two types, reveals the human Jesus, the Son God employed to renew creation and reconcile the world to himself. God put the sinless Christ in the place of sinful humanity so that sinful humanity could stand in the place of the sinless Christ. The theologian Frank Matera writes “Christ functions as a representative figure, completely associating himself with the human condition so that humanity might be reconciled with God.”
John in his gospel sharpens the irony we find in Mark by making the cruel mocking of Jesus as a king the central focus of the seven scenes in today’s text. For example in scene four (19:1–5) John deliberately focuses on the frail and weak humanity of Jesus who cuts a pathetic figure. John is writing theology. He wants us to see divine glory in the inglorious human figure, a challenge to all human pretentiousness and power, or perhaps is his emphasis on the reality of Jesus’ death and Jesus’ real humanity, in John it is sometimes hard to know. Only in John’s gospel is there the thrust of the spear, perhaps suggested by the use of Zechariah 12:10, or is it to provide the proof that Jesus really died a human death like one of us, in this scene we see the humanity of Jesus laid bare, a human person who died like any other human person.
Our second icon type reveals the divine Jesus.
Both San Damiano and Christus Rex are in dichotomy to our east window, they show Christ in a different attitude, even though all three depict Christ crucified. The corpus in the second and third icons is not slumped in human agony and death as in the first, it is upright and welcoming. The San Damiano with its upright pose, outstretched yet slightly bent arms appears to be inviting us to embrace Jesus’ in victory over the cross; Christs’ eyes are wide open and his face is serene. His eyes appear to gase gently toward us inviting us to follow him. Christ is both crucified and glorified.
The Christus Rex reveals Jesus in his heavenly glory again with the corpus upright. The Christus Rex is an ancient symbol of the Church emphasizing the divine Glory rather than the human suffering. In this icon we see Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, eyes open and wounds displayed in allusion to his victory over death, wearing both prophetic and priestly robes, his arms are outstretched, making with his erect body the form of the cross, symbolizing that our Lord offers Himself for the salvation of us all.
The San Damiano and Christus Rex are not attempts to realistically depict Our Lord; good symbols are always only representations to remind us of who He is: the Saviour who became incarnate, was victorious over suffering and death, who now reigns in Heaven as Lord of all, pleading before the throne of God as High Priest, His offering of Himself for us.
Paul affirms that Christ is the divine representative figure who died for humanity, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that those of us who are “in Christ” are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).  Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new”.
It is Christ’s status as God’s pre-existent son that endowers his work with salvific value. While other human beings may die for the sake (hyper) of their friends or nation, their death does not justify or redeem others. Christ’s death however is redemptive because he gave himself on behalf of others and is God’s unique son. In Israel only God could save, and here in the cross of Christ we see the opportunity of redemption for faithful humanity, truly the second and divine person of the triune God at work.
And so Good Friday is truly a time to reflect on the whole event of Jesus’ death including the human and divine dichotomy. What it means for Christ to be truly human and truly divine and how this dichotomy and Good Friday event should influence our life and actions.
The human side of Jesus’ life including the denial of discipleship, the jealousy of divine authority, the thirst for retribution, and the agony of human cruelty may be contemplated using only four words from the poet Robert Burns in his 1784 dirge called “Man was made to Mourn”, Burns writes, “Man’s inhumanity to man”.
And when contemplating the divine side of today’s dichotomy; the self sacrifice, the unconditional love, the invitation to and opportunity for life, and the Son of Man’s call to right relationship with God it might be useful to remember Jesus’ words in Johns Gospel (Jn 5:24) “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life”.
And so if we meditate upon the whole event of Jesus’ death and consider the human and divine dichotomy represented in the icons of this church we may be able to live the Passion Sunday Liturgy which says “Today we commit ourselves to walk the way of the cross, so that, sharing his sufferings, we may be united with him in his risen life.
 Matera Frank J. New Testament Christology, Westminster John Knox Press 1999, 91.
 Ibid, 100.