Jn  18.1-19.42                      Is 52.13-53.12            Heb 4.14-16,7-9

From the Last Supper we move through the Agony in the Garden during the darkness of the night to the ultimate injustice of the Crucifixion of Jesus.  As Catholics, we’ve grown up with the image of Jesus on the Cross as iconic and most of us have just accepted this is the way it was, without too much reflection on its horrific nature and the terrible suffering associated with this form of death.

As one Grade 2 student said to me in class, why is this called ‘Good’ Friday, when it appears anything but! The old mantra of Jesus dying to save us from our sins doesn’t ring true to me, when the suffering and sin in the world today is considered. It seems more that Jesus died in this way because of the sin and evil in the world, where there was jealousy and hatred of him because of his person and message. It is certainly not that suffering is a good thing in itself.

I was talking to Margaret, an old friend from my Asquith days, in hospital recently, who had received a grim prognosis of serious, if not terminal, illness, and also facing imminent risky surgery, which she fortunately got through very well.  As a person of faith, she spoke of having no fear of death itself, but of any associated pain.  None of us wish to suffer unnecessarily, and it’s one of the fundamental principles of palliative care, that pain be alleviated and relieved, as far as possible.

If we think of the current situation in the world, there are ongoing natural disasters, many beyond human control, but there is also man-made darkness too.  The wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and elsewhere,  continue to make us wonder why humanity cannot live in peace, resolving differences through dialogue and mutual respect and understanding.  The suffering goes on, and the human cost is immeasurable, and hard to imagine, as we look on, feeling helpless and wondering why such things go on and on, when there could be resolution if there was a willingness to end the conflict on both sides.

Journalist and author Stan Grant, a committed Christian, has something to say about all of this. Last weekend, he wrote an article for “The Saturday Paper” titled “My Easter Prayer: Where are you, God?”  Like poor old Job of the Old Testament, he wrestles with the age old question of the Problem of Evil, suggesting there is a need to reflect on “theology – taking God and evil seriously as being real” to help understand the meaning of life, and to consciously and actively confront it where we can.

He is critical of secular society denying the reality of God, and just accepting the banality of evil, as something which just happens.  His prayer “comes from being born into a history of suffering. It is a prayer that has haunted me, as I’ve reported from more than 70 countries, following Yeats’s ‘blood-dimmed tide’, from bombed market places, bullet-riddled homes, burnt out neighbourhoods, from disasters natural and all too human. Throughout our world, people shelter in fearful corners, their children stolen from them, or dad in the rubble, their homes levelled, cold and alone and whimpering that same prayer… the cry of the afflicted.”

Stan has street credibility, as he has been directly caught up as a reporter,  in the midst of the tragedies and suffering of life first-hand.  We can’t escape the realization that this is the conflicted world of which we are part. He sees the need for an appreciation of a God of life, goodness and love behind it all, to whom to turn, in hope for a better world, as a result of being in it, despite the darkness at times!

The Passion we hear today from John’s Gospel has Jesus in control of all that happens, despite his being the innocent victim of injustice.  This is his ‘hour’,  fulfilling the purpose of his life. He carries his cross alone, with the women and John at the foot of the cross, initiating the community of faithful disciples. He utters no words of abandonment as we heard in Mark’s account, only the final words “It is finished”, and the spices for his burial befit a king.  Paradoxically, he reigns from the cross, drawing all to himself.

Scripture scholar Raymond Brown points to the water flowing from Jesus’ side as symbolic  of the Spirit being poured out. Nicodemus, the searcher for faith in John’s Gospel, reappears at the critical moment of Jesus’ death and burial, drawn to Jesus after he had been lifted up on the Cross, finally coming to faith in him.

Our crosses in life can be many and varied.  Facing our human frailty and mortality is one thing, and then dealing with the physical, psychological and emotional things that can go wrong within ourselves, and others, is a challenge we all face at different stages of our lives, and those whom we love, and beyond.

In a flawed world, where suffering and evil are very real, Jesus shows us the way in bearing our crosses and in supporting others in facing up to theirs.  But we also remember that there is much goodness and love in our world too, and it’s up to you and me to bring that out in ourselves, as we follow his way.

And now, in faith, we anticipate the dawn of a new day, as we look forward to celebrating the peace and joy of Easter, also with hope and love.

john hannon                                                                                    29th  March  2024

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