Is 52:13-53:12; He 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42
At Lauds this week we’ve been singing the hymn, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s. In the third verse it speaks of the idea of atonement. Today there is a large crowd of us gathered together in this church for a rather lengthy service. And if we were to let the camera zoom out, we would see many, many people gathered for similar services all over the world today. We are all commemorating an event that took place 2,000 years ago – a very momentous event, an event that changed the course of history for mankind, and gave us the possibility of a happy afterlife.
Although Good Friday is multifaceted and so complex that we will never sort it all out, the theme of “atonement” is certainly worth meditating upon. Somehow, Christ’s passion and crucifixion atoned for our sins and opened up the gates of heaven for us. Because of our sins, we deserved eternal agony and suffering. But Christ took all that upon himself and made it possible for us to instead enjoy bliss with God for all eternity. As St. Anselm taught in his famous work, Why God Became Man, written at the end of the eleventh century, only Christ could have accomplished this atonement. Being fully divine in nature, his act had an infinite effect. And at the same time being fully human in nature, he could fully represent us and cancel out our debt.
But why did it have to be so gory? Anyone who has watched Mel Gibson’s “Passion” or meditated on the stations of the cross or the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary would have been seriously affected by seeing another human being suffer so much. It’s not a very pleasant experience to think about Christ’s agony, and we naturally want to flee in the opposite direction. Christ’s gruesome passion was necessary, however, to impress upon us the enormity of our sins, the gravity of our offenses. If it would have been a quick fix, an easy pardon, a simple wiping of the slate, we would have taken it all lightly. But sin, in all its hideousness, is revealed to us in what we are commemorating today. It makes us never want to offend God again.
When we meditate on all that Christ was willing to go through for us, it makes us love him all that much more. In Luke’s Gospel (ch. 7) Jesus was dining in the house of a Pharisee when a sinful woman washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Jesus’ answer to the objections of the Pharisee concluded with, “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little has been forgiven, loves little.”
With all this in mind, let us listen again to the words of our first reading and let them sink into our souls:
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
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.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.
Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
And he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.