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Good Friday 2018

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.”[1]

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). [2] 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.

[1] Mat­era Frank J. New Test­a­ment Chris­to­logy, West­min­ster John Knox Press 1999, 91.

[2] Ibid, 100.

Peter Sey­mour