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The Lenten journey is drawing to a close, a crucial ending that will evoke new beginnings.
The official name for what is traditionally known as Good Friday is Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord. It is a day of mourning, a day to contemplate prayerfully the cross as a sign of Jesus’ willingness to die that all of us might be saved.
There is an obvious solemnity and somberness to this time, but it is not simply a remembrance of a past phenomenon. It is not only a commemoration of a 2,000 year-old incident.
It is the celebration of the living reality we have been offered salvation, given that gift while we were yet sinners. This is a day when we are uniquely called to be people of compassion, called to love one another unconditionally as God loves us. It is a time when our cry, both as a community of believers and as individuals of faith, is Come, passion!
Too often those words are unfortunately interpreted as a sadistic or masochistic search for suffering, a sort of “pain for pain’s sake” expression of goodness and asceticism. They are viewed as spiritual athleticism with its accompanying motto, “No pain; no gain.” But that vision is skewed.
This particular Friday recalls the passion with which Jesus of Nazareth lived. His wholehearted entry into life evoked distrust, envy, jealousy, and eventually fatal vengeance in those who would rather live superficial lives devoid of depth. They feared the cost of passionate living.
They could never cry out, Come, passion!
There are others in today’s world who would diminish passion to lewd expressions of artificial ardor.
Snickering, leering, offering sensual innuendoes; they miss passion’s point and power. They limit their perception to steamy scenes from R-rated movies or glimpses of soft porn and think that they know what it is to be passionate.
Good Friday jolts us into a renewed understanding of passion, with its accompanying suffering and death. On this day, we are confronted with a reality that none of us likes to face.
On this day, we meet the Lord of Life as he approaches his impending and inevitable death. We meet a God-man who does not want to die, but is willing to do so because he knows that our salvation is wrapped in his act of sacrificial love.
He is willing to give his life so that we might have life. He is willing to die because he cannot deny who he is.
Good Friday is a day of atonement, a day when Christians celebrate the cross as the means of our being “at one” with God. This veneration has a long history. It dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, “not as a reenactment of the crucifixion, but rather a time to revere the last touchstone to Jesus, the cross, and to proclaim his victory over death.” [Modern Liturgy p. 28]
There is a fundamental truth: Jesus died. But there is no attempt to return to the historical death of Jesus, which happened once.
This day is not about calling to memory the sound of scourging blows or hammered nails. It is not about feeling the pain of a thorned crown or the grinding anguish of a hanging body.
It is not a passion play, a drama that will compel powerful but fleeting emotions. Its force is a constant encounter with the Lord as he is the Lord who lives in us now as we cry out, “Come, passion!”
If we have not yet taken advantage of the prayerfulness offered by the Lenten season, we have another opportunity on Good Friday.
On this day, we need not mourn with sorrow, though that might be effective. On this day, we can give ourselves time to pray and reflect on the ways in which we have experienced our own personal cry, “Come, passion!”
Thomas Merton, in his final talk delivered two hours before he died, said: “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”
It is another way of saying that we need to beg, “Come, passion!” or our world will die of desiccation. It will dry up, not from drought but from apathy and avoidance. Denial of distress will be our universal death sentence and we’ll not have the strength or energy to ask, “Come, passion!”
Long before Merton spoke those words, Jesus uttered them with his ministry, underscored them with his death, and both finalized and glorified them with his resurrection.
The first century world of the Nazarene was no less laden with problems than our 21st Century one. They were different, to be sure, but equally burdensome. The resolution to both is to live the cry for compassion—even if it is a crucifying choice.
It boils down to consciously living as healers and helpers. It means ridding ourselves of past excesses and having the humility to listen to the sages of our time. It means participating in universal salvation—not just by bringing people to church but by being church with people. It means being grounded in hope and being grateful for our giftedness.
It means acting with charity and without judgment to aid those who cannot help themselves.
A hymn written by Sr. Genevieve Glen, O.S.B. sums it up:
“Compassion walks the city street
And listens for uncertain feet
That seek a home they cannot find
Because the heart that leads is blind.
Compassion holds a steady light
To show the way through chill of night
And takes the homeless by the hand
to lead them to a warmer land.
Compassion walks where life is hard,
Where eyes are blank and faces marred
By pain too great to understand,
And shoulders those too weak to stand.
Compassion is the Shepherd’s name:
Who from the halls of heaven came
To travel landscapes bare and bleak
For those that only love would seek.
Compassion does not tire or sleep
But walks wherever suff’rers weep
Through ages past and still to come,
Until the world is gathered home
To rest at last where Mercy reigns
And heals all ills and stills all pains.
And there Compassion’s walk will cease,
Where God is all, and all is peace.”
And all God’s people say “Amen.”
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.