"A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering"
(Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42.)
Last night, in the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, we listened to Saint John's account of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, and telling them that if they wanted to be genuine followers of him they had to put their belief in him into action, in a practical way, by doing the same themselves - by showing love and care and service towards their neighbour.
Jesus was symbolising what God is like, God's nature, God's way of doing things. And as he often said, God's way of doing things is different from the way of the world. Strength, power, even intimidation, are the marks of a certain wordly type of leadership, not to mention the superior status and prestige that go along with it. For his part, Jesus was demonstrating that God only makes himself present in service and sacrifice.
On Good Friday, Jesus takes his revelation of what God is like a stage further. We have to remember that during the years of his ministry Jesus had been very outspoken and courageous. His commitment to God didn't lead him to be a recluse, to live in obscurity and spend all his time praying and contemplating, even although that is of course a perfectly authentic vocation for certain other people.
Jesus' mission involved him in confronting the powers that be, unmasking their false ideas of God, and the way that people often used God and religion for their own purposes. And at the end of all that, his mission involved him in going to his death, without resisting or protesting.
Even if it had been practically possible, using force or violence to overcome his enemies, to save his life and achieve the victory for his cause - even if that had been possible - it wasn't an option Jesus was able to take. It's not what God is like. In the face of injustice and lies, and suffering, God's way can't fall into unjust and lying methods itself.
God's way is more the way of showing solidarity with all the other victims of lies and injustice by becoming a victim of injustice himself. God doesn't wave a magic wand over weakness, evil, and suffering, and make it all disappear. He opts to walk into it, to share it, to be in solidarity with every other human being, whatever form of suffering or pain they're undergoing.
Today, in the Good Friday celebration of Christ's Passion, we venerate and kiss the Cross, the symbol of Jesus' self-sacrifice. But of course, as with the Eucharist - as we saw last night - the challenge to us isn't just to believe in Christ, in our minds. The challenge to us is to put our belief into practice.
The suffering and injustice that is inescapable in a fallen world can be on a large scale or it can be on a small scale. It takes all kinds of forms, as we know: - poverty or war on the large scale, mental anguish, loneliness, cruelty at the personal level. For most of us, our own lives haven't been, and aren't, totally free of these things.
But the question is: have we redeemed it? Has it made us bitter and turned in on ourselves, or has it opened our eyes to this sacrificial love of God which Christ revealed in his Passion.
And then, concretely, has it made us more likely to stand alongside others who are suffering, more ready to identify with them, even if that might mean sacrificing our own interests or being humiliated or taken advantage of?
It's the stance that we take up in relation to suffering - our own, and other people's - that shows how far we've understood the meaning of the Cross. Our ritual of venerating the Cross once a year on Good Friday is only a symbol or a gesture that serves to remind us of that meaning.
So as we go on to make that gesture let us be confident, as the Letter to the Hebrews said, in approaching the throne of grace, to receive mercy and favour and to find God's grace when we are in need of help.