The Scriptures for Good Friday present us with two Passion accounts, that of the suffering servant from the prophet Isaiah and the main focus of today’s liturgy, the Passion of Jesus. Central to the meaning of each account is the issue of atonement. Isaiah proclaims, if he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what the lord wishes will be done. And the cross of Jesus is traditionally understood as atonement, the offering of his life to atone for the sins of the world.
Now this doctrine is a very rich one and has many aspects to it. One I find especially helpful is the way in which some people break the word atonement into three smaller, hyphenated words – At-One-Ment.
Now the suggestion here is that the Passion of Jesus is essentially at the service of bringing about unity in our world. This is a strong gospel theme especially in the theology of St John, where Jesus prays for his disciples that they should be one, with him, with the Father and with one another. There must be one flock and one shepherd. St John interprets the words of the High Priest in condemning Jesus to death for the sake of the nation as an ironic prophecy. For our Lord gives his life, he says, not just for the nation but to gather together the scattered children of God.
So one way of looking at Calvary is as a blood soaked pulpit from which Our Lord cries out down through the centuries every Good Friday: Be at one, with me, with one another and in yourself.
He appeals today to warring countries to unite in a just peace. In spite of Brexit and Protocol problems, Jesus pleads with the people of these Islands and mainland Europe to find common ground especially as we celebrate that potent symbol of unity the Good Friday agreement. The Lord implores divided families to forgive and live in peace and harmony, putting an end to domestic violence. The Logic of the Cross, of at-one-ment demands this, especially when Christians are involved.
And yet there is still another application of this theme, the need for us to find a unity in our whole life span between the active stage and the stage of passion. At the heart of all human life, unless one dies young, suddenly, is the tension between the idea that what gives life value is our activity, what we achieve and the fact that we are destined to experience diminishment sooner or later. No wonder so many of our sisters and brothers consider suicide or advocate euthanasia because they hate the idea of losing their dignity in this way.
The Cross of Jesus gives us an important response to this challenge for Jesus embraces both active and passive dimensions of life in his public ministry and then on the last day of his earthly life, beginning on Holy Thursday. On that evening he is handed over to the authorities, dragged from place to place, brutalised, and tortured. Where now is the man who calmed storms, fed crowds and raised people from the dead? Yet on the Cross when he can’t move a muscle he performs his greatest work of at-one-ment. He cries out, it is accomplished. In Mark’s account, a Roman Centurion declares his Son of God.
So once again the preacher from Galilee uses that bloody pulpit of the Cross to preach the good news that life is equally valuable whether we are active or whether we are going through our own version of the passion. There is power in that cross for us still today to achieve this integration of our scattered selves. Our Lord proclaims elsewhere, Insofar as you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me. Often our world identifies those lesser ones with the inactive, the passive, but Jesus identifies these same ones as the most important in the heart of God. He has come to make us all one and what a price he pays to get that message across.
Kieran Cronin OFM