“What is Truth? Christ Before Pilate” by Nikolai Ge (1831-1894), oil on canvas, 1890, housed at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. “What is Truth? Christ Before Pilate” by Nikolai Ge (1831-1894), oil on canvas, 1890, housed at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. “What is Truth? Christ Before Pilate” by Nikolai Ge (1831-1894), oil on canvas, 1890, housed at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Spiritual Life

DEACON ROGER FILIPS: What Christ did for us on Good Friday

By DEACON ROGER FILIPS

I have to admit that whenever I hear the passion story read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I still hope that Pilate will do the right thing.

He knows Jesus is innocent of insurrection. He knows that Jesus is just a victim of local politics and religious jealousy. He knows all of this, and he still has Jesus crucified. How can he do that?

Pilate had already exacted his pound of flesh. Jesus lost so much blood from the scourges shredding his skin that he couldn’t carry his cross alone. He died after only three hours on the cross. Most crucifixion victims lasted for days.

Pilate had hundreds of well-trained Roman soldiers who could have put down any riot if the Jewish community organizers had started one. But every Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Pilate lets me down. He takes the easy way out, letting the mob have its way and sacrificing an innocent man to keep the peace.

Then I think about how Jesus not only suffered and died for the sins of people of that time, but for me, too. His suffering was payment for my sins. Some of those stripes on his back are mine. I could have said no to sin, just like Pilate could have said no the mob, but I gave in just like Pilate did. I took the easy way out, too.

SIN AND REPENTANCE

Jesus said: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:37-38)

This is an early instance of moral relativism. Moral relativism is how many of us justify our sins. We believe that as long as we don’t think it’s a sin, it’s not a sin. But that’s not how it works. If an act is offensive to God, our subjective thoughts and feelings on the matter don’t make any difference. He is offended and his justice requires reparation. And that is what happened on Good Friday. Jesus paid for our sins. Now we have to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Compare Judas and Peter. Judas betrayed Jesus once, but Peter betrayed him three times. Judas despaired of forgiveness and went and hanged himself. Peter came back to Jesus after the Resurrection and told him that he loved him – three times. Jesus forgave Peter, and Peter resumed his role as the leader of the apostles and became our first pope.

Can you imagine Judas coming to his senses and throwing himself at the foot of the cross at Calvary and begging Jesus for forgiveness? I can. Can you imagine Jesus actually forgiving him and restoring him as an apostle? I can, because that is what Jesus came to suffer and die for, to pay for all of our sins. But we have to repent and ask for forgiveness.

PASSION OF CHRIST

So on Good Friday we celebrate the passion of Christ. When we use the word “passion,” we often think of the passion between husband and wife. We tend to think of Jesus’ passion as a synonym for his suffering. But the marriage-bed definition of passionate love is also filled with meaning.

The passion of Christ is about the “passionate” love of God – his ardent, self-giving love for us: The passionate love of the Father who would sacrifice his Son to torture and death for our sake. The passionate love of the Son for the Father who would suffer and die out of obedience. The passionate love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who would carry out the whole plan of salvation for love of us.

The cross is Jesus’ wedding bed on Good Friday. He consummates his marriage to us upon that cross. If it is too hard to imagine a cross as a wedding bed, look at the altar instead. At every Mass we re-present his passion on this altar. If you look at many architecturally traditional churches, they have a baldachin over the top of the altar. A baldachin is a stylized wedding bed canopy; it reminds us of Jesus’ spousal love for us, his Church.

SOMETHING MISSING

Jesus’ passionate love for us continues all these years later. But on Good Friday, something seems to be missing. We notice how cold and empty our churches are on that day, when they have been stripped bare and the tabernacle has been emptied. It’s a little scary, but gives us a hint of what the world was like before Christ brought his love, mercy and warmth to the world. You can feel it. It is more of an absence. I always feel it and don’t like it.

We need to remember this feeling of coldness, emptiness and sorrow – this lack of the Son. Good Friday is a night for understanding. It is a night to feel, to feel deeply what it is like after we have killed our God and banished him from our world. This is what the world without God feels like.

If you want to experience the Easter hallelujah, you have to experience the Good Friday passion. If you want to feel Easter joy, you have to feel the Good Friday sorrow. Our Lord returns at the Saturday evening vigil and we will feel it Sunday morning when the Son rises again in our world.

Deacon Roger Filips was ordained for the archdiocese in 2017 and is assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington.