Good Friday, the Passion and the Church
Published on THE STREAM
On Good Friday, we recall the sacrifice offered on the second tree on Golgotha’s Hill. The Savior whom St. Paul calls the last Adam (1 Cor.15:45) did for us what we could not do for ourselves. On the Hill of Calvary, heaven was wed to earth. By His Blood we were freed from the power of sin and death.
Remembering the Cross
In Christian Churches throughout the world, between the hours of 12:00 and 3: 00 p.m., devotions such as the stations or the way of the cross recount his passion and death. Reflections on the last seven words of Jesus invite the faithful to ponder the meaning of His self-emptying on the Altar of the Cross.
As a Catholic clergyman, I will walk with my brothers into a dark sanctuary. The altar has been stripped of all altar cloths. The tabernacle is emptied of the consecrated Eucharist. Upon reaching the altar in silence, we will lay prostrate on the floor.
This is a sign of our surrendered love and awe in the face of the great mystery of the crucifixion of Jesus.
As the Cross is carried into the dark sanctuary, I will chant Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. The faithful will respond, Come, let us Worship. The Cross will be presented for those who wish to venerate with a kiss, a touch or a reverent bow.
Common Family History
Today, I’m drawn back to reflections from the early Church Fathers. No matter where we stand in the divided Body of Christ, we all trace our roots back to the first Christian millennium when we were one.
These reflections come from our common family history. They are based on one line from the passion narrative in the Gospel of St. John which is read on Good Friday. “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear,” John tells us, “and at once there came out blood and water (John 19:33)
Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His Side. From the wound in Christ’s side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His Bride.
St. John Chrysostom explained:
The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own.
There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy Eucharist.
Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.
Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.
Do we understand what Chrysostom is teaching?
We Are Joined to Christ
This link between Good Friday and the Church is woven throughout our Christian tradition. St. Augustine wrote, “There it was that the gate of life was opened, from there the sacraments of the Church flow; without these one does not enter true life.”
As we contemplate the Passion of Jesus Christ, we should also ask the Holy Spirit to help us plumb the mystery and meaning of the Church. We are all members of the one Body of Jesus Christ. That Church which was born from the wounded side of the Savior.
Through both Word and Sacrament, Jesus, the Head of His Body, continues to feed us so we can enter more fully into this communion through His Cross and Resurrection. The Holy Spirit empowers us to participate in His redemptive mission.
As the solemn commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday continues, we join the needs of the whole world to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who offered Himself on that second tree, to begin the new creation.
Then, silently, we leave to wait by the Tomb . . . . . .
Please visit THE STREAM for the rest of this article