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God is here

Our reflection for Good Friday is written by Fr Isidore Bonabom SJ from the Jesuit Province of North-West Africa.

The man who lay dying on the hospital bed had his story too. His graced history did not change because he was HIV-positive or lay dying surrounded by a few loved ones. He had lived a full life as a successful city lawyer, sharing his leadership gifts in his Church community, serving the needs of many clients and responding to the needs of his family. He had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion received in a rural clinic while he was doing his national service just after university studies. When he first discovered he was HIV-positive, he asked the rhetorical ‘why?’ many times. In spite of the initial isolation he experienced, he believed there was a deeper mystery to this pain and eventually accepted it as his share in the suffering of Christ (Philippians 3:10). Like most people living with HIV in his part of the world, he endured the twin problem of stigmatisation and scapegoating. Very few people knew how he contracted HIV but those in his community witnessed the equanimity with which he lived out his graced history. Acceptance had given him a sense of peace.

Good Friday is the second day of the Paschal Triduum and the day we commemorate the final hours of Jesus’ earthly life. We celebrate the mystery of his passion, reflect on his suffering and pray about his death on the cross. Jesus, who described himself as “the life” (John 14:6), and is indeed life, is put to death. The Eucharist is not celebrated today but the prayers and readings are centred on Christ’s redemptive act of total self-giving. Both the first and second readings are about people who relinquished their identities in order to assume their true identities in God. The Suffering Servant bore our infirmities, endured our suffering:

while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed
(Isaiah 53:4-5).

The readings come together as we reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ, who “though he was Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9).

Prior to his arrest and crucifixion, the passion narrative reminds us that Jesus is not some victim of human iniquity, but rather the master of both life and death at whose word those who come to arrest him fall down. But we also see him stripped of his dignity and hear his anguish. He faces stigma as he makes his way to Calvary, carrying his cross, and as he is nailed to the cross like a hapless victim. Many of his companions fade away and onlookers quickly replace them at a time when he most needs his friends around him. God’s abiding love seems to be absent in these last hours of his earthly life.

Among the characters of the passion with whom we all identify is the beloved disciple. He stands at the foot of the cross with a small group of other loyal disciples. They do not run away. Rather, they stand there in silence, listening as Jesus speaks to his mother and the beloved disciple: “‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother”’ (John 19:26-27).

A trinity of witnesses mark the final hour of Jesus’ earthly life: the blood and water that flow from his pierced side, and his Spirit, which he gives up as he bows his head (John 19:30). The sigh of life’s parting is silent. We are not mourning the death of Jesus on Good Friday but celebrating the saving effects of his passion and death. John reminds us in the Gospel that

An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true;
he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe
(John 19:35).

Underlying everything that happens today is the silence. Silence is an integral part of the divine rhythm, and it is what nurtures peace within and communion without. The liturgy begins in silence and ends in silence. Jesus is silent as he is questioned by Pontius Pilate (John 19:8-9), silent as he carries his cross to Calvary and silent as he is crucified. The context provides the reason for the silence, the readings echo the message of silence, and as we hear the question posed by Jesus – ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – the echo of his voice resounds in our hearts. It is in silence that we experience Jesus on the cross and in silence contemplate the cross, the source of our salvation. God is here, in the dying man and at the foot of the cross. God is here.

To read the rest of the Lenten reflection series, including the Holy Thursday reflection, please go here.

To read this reflection in French, please go here.

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