Text: John 19:17-30
Date: Good Friday Triduum II + 4/6/07
From a harmony of the four Gospels we have seven words or statements from the cross. Matthew and Mark report only the one, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” St. Luke has three more: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do;” “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise;” and “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” Each Evangelist’s account has its own character and purpose. St. Luke’s is the most catechetical, proclaiming the faithful Son of God who came to release all mankind from the grip of the bondage of sin. Good Friday, however, is reserved, always, for Saint John. He reports the additional words from the cross, “Woman, behold, your son,” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” In addition to those words, however, are two more important details: the soldiers gambling for his tunic, and the piercing of Jesus’ side with a spear and the flow of blood and water. Taken together, St. John’s account of the crucifixion therefore emphasizes, more than the others, the triumph and victory of the Son of God, the Word made flesh Who came to conquer death and give life to all who believe. In John the Passion is victorious. Jesus’ death is referred to as his glorification, and by his cross he is lifted up like the healing serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. Even his final word is a cry of victory, “It is finished.” He is not overcome. He has overcome.
In John’s Gospel we are bidden away from ourselves, that is, to view the crucifixion not as much from our perspective—flinching at the tearing of his skin by the whip, the nails and the spear—but to view the crucifixion from God’s perspective. What is in the mind and heart of God through this bloody, violent scene? It is victory. “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat,” “Christ is victor, king and ruler of the world.” Today we celebrate the victory of God not in spite of death but by and through a death transfigured to serve his ultimate purpose of love, restoring and giving life to His world. The Cross, from our perspective an instrument of death, becomes, from God’s perspective, the tree of life.
It becomes the tree of life for those who look upon it in faith. Look at the soldiers dividing his clothes. When it comes to his expensive tunic woven in one piece they gamble for it. Gambling relies on chance or “fate.” How many, like these soldiers, remain blind and ignorant to the Word of God and his plan preferring to pursue life as if it were no more than a throw of the dice? But here, in Jesus’ long journey to the cross, nothing is a result of chance or “fate;” all is part of God’s divine plan for the salvation and life of the world. And this plan of salvation and life is for all who look upon him and believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God.
When the soldiers come to put the three crucified men out of their misery by breaking their legs, as the Passover was about to begin, they discover that Jesus is already dead. It was for evidence that Jesus was really dead that the soldier pierced His side with a lance and discovered the non-circulating blood already separated into its components. Yet there is more here. For John blood and water allude to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here is your connection with the blessed benefits of his death: in holy baptism to be united with him in a death like his in order to be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6); and in the holy Eucharist, strengthened and sustained in saving faith by his Body and Blood. As John would write later, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” [1 John 5:6-8 (ESV)]. In other words this is our connection with the blessed benefits of his death: through the Spirit, the water and the blood, the Word and Sacraments of Christ.
In these most holy hours of the commemoration of the death of Our Lord, therefore, let us do more than mourn that it is our sin that caused His grief, but believe that, by His cross and blood, He has truly taken our sins away. Thanks be to God for his glorious victory and gift.