BIA Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
Fr. Tegha A

Fr. Tegha A Nji

Meditations on the Paschal Mystery through the Eyes of Mary (PART II: Good Friday)

Topic: Christ himself was wounded for our sins! And a sword pierced your heart too, Mary!

Texts for Meditation: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9; and John 18:1–19:42.

What really is good about this Friday? Certainly not the bloody excruciating barbaric torture, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. No! 

What is good about this Friday is the superabundant love of our God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Christ loved those who were his own, and he loved them to the end. (Jn 13:1). He loved us unto death, even death on a cross. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ that saves us from sin and death, and not the torture or wickedness of his executioners; lest we think sin be the remedy of sin. No! It is the love of God! For as the holy apostle Paul says, what proves that God loves us is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8). He dies as our ransom from sin and death. For as St. Peter reminds us, our ransom was not paid with gold or silver or anything perishable, but by the precious blood of Christ, chosen before the foundation of the world and revealed in the last days for our sake. (1 Pt 1:18-20).

What is good about this Friday is that upon the cross, Christ fulfils the mysteries of the gifts he had presented to his disciples at the Last Supper, thereby bringing to completion the new Passover that takes away our sins and gives us new life.

We recall from the insightful text of Scott Hahn, The Fourth Cup, that the Jewish Passover meal (seder) was traditionally made of four courses, and during each course a cup of wine was drunk. After the first course (festival of blessing) and the second (Passover narratives), came the third and main meal in which the sacrificed lamb was eaten with unleavened bread and the third cup of wine, known as the ‘cup of blessing’ was drunk. It was at this point that Jesus re-interpreted the bread and the wine (as we saw yesterday) as a Passover in his own body and blood. Thus, St. Paul proclaims, “The blessing cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ.” (1 Cor 10:16). Immediately after Jesus’ reinterpretation of the unleavened bread and the cup as his Body and his Blood, he left abruptly with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. He did not complete the seder, for he did not drink the fourth cup, the cup of consummation. This means the Passover was not consummated at that last supper table. No, not yet! It will be consummated only on the Cross.

Recall two important moments of Jesus’ life at this point. Pointing to this moment, Jesus had said of himself, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt 26:29; Lk 22:18; Mk 14:25). This referred to the moment when he must have given them the “wine” that was his “blood.” Again, in the garden of Gethsemane, right after he had given them the cup of his blood, he will cry to the father, “Father, if possible, let this cup pass me by, but not my will but yours be done.” (Mt 26:39; Lk 22:42; Mk 14:36). What cup is Jesus talking about? Most certainly, the missing fourth cup of the ‘uncompleted Passover’. Shortly before his crucifixion they tried giving Jesus wine mixed with vinegar, but he refused to drink (Mk 15:23; Mt 27:34). His vow not to drink of wine again shines out.

And when all was at last accomplished, while hanging on the cross, he cried out, “I thirst.” One of the soldiers put a sponge full of wine vinegar on a hyssop stick and held it to his mouth (Jn 19:28-29). When Jesus had received the drink, he said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (Jn 19:30). What is finished? It is the Passover! At last, he has drunk to fourth cup – the ‘cup of consummation’ which marked the end of the Passover. This is at the same time the ‘cup of suffering,’ ‘the cup of his passion.’ By this very consummation of the Passover on the cross, Jesus confirms and re-interprets the Passover bread and cup as his Body and Blood, as he had offered up the previous night to his disciples at the Last Supper meal. Indeed, Jesus’ Passover is consummated only on the cross – where his body is broken, and his blood is poured forth. 

That is what is good about this Friday – Our God has saved us! 

In the fourth oracle of Yahweh’s Suffering Servant in the text of Isaiah read today, we find a prophecy about Christ himself, the perfect Servant of Yahweh. Of this Servant of Yahweh, we read, “His look is beyond human resemblance (as was Jesus’ bloody scourged body) … Before him kings shall stand speechless (as was Pilate and Herod before Jesus) … He was spurned and avoided by people (as was Jesus when his disciples all fled and the people cried for his crucifixion) … Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured … He was pierced for our offences, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (as did Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world) … Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter (as did Jesus the Lamb of God, he did not retaliate but rather offered forgiveness – Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing) … Because of his affliction… he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.” (Is 52:13-53:12). 

That is what is good about this Friday – by his Cross, Christ has perfectly fulfilled these words of prophecy! Indeed, as St. Peter reiterates, “By his wounds we have been healed.” (1 Pt 2:24-25).

As the letter to the Hebrews notes, in today’s second reading, when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayer and entreaty on our behalf, to God the Father, and having been made perfect, meaning by his dying on the cross, he has become the perfect priest, the lamb of sacrifice, and the means of eternal salvation for all peoples that obey him (Heb 4:4-16; 5:7-9).

The literalness of the words of Isaiah about the piercing of Yahweh’s servant for our sake comes to pass when Jesus’ side is pierced with a lance and there flowed out blood and water, which, as St. John Chrysostom notes, in his Catechesis on “The Power of Christ’s Blood,” these symbolize the waters of baptism and the eucharist. It is in and through these two sacraments that the Church is born. Therefore, the Church, the bride of Christ, issued forth from the very side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the Cross, thereby making, and bringing about a new creation, a new people, just has the Lord God himself had taken a rib from the side of sleeping Adam to form his bride, Eve.

There is contained here an even deeper mystery, for the Blessed Virgin Mary is the new Eve, of whom was born Jesus. It is from her womb that the Savior of the world received the flesh with which he was able to suffer and die on our behalf, and from whose side the Church poured forth. Mary, therefore, in a preeminent way, by the special grace of God, precedes the Church in holiness and is a symbol of what the Church would be – a perfect bride of Christ and faithful disciple of the Savior. Mary is mother of the Church by the very privilege granted her as mother of Christ, the bridegroom of the Church. Not only according to this order is she so called mother. 

By her singular participation in her Son’s passion, Mary has shown herself a co-mediatrix on our behalf. Therefore, a loving mother. She unreservedly surrendered her son unto death. What Jesus suffered in the flesh, she suffered in her heart. Therefore, Simeon’s words of prophecy came true, “And a sword will pierce your heart too, Mary.” (Lk 2:35). The lamentation of Rachel in Ramah for her slaughtered children (Jer 31:15; Mt 2:18) in a sense becomes a figure of Mary as she bears the agony of seeing her son thus cruelly treated. She followed Jesus from the crib to the foot cross, never complaining, never fighting, but pondering all these things in her pierced heart. We recall the famous words of the Stabat Mater:

At the cross her station keeping, 
stood the mournful mother weeping, 
close to Jesus to the last! 

Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has passed.

Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Mary’s own sorrowful passion, known as the seven sorrows of Mary, span her entire life, leading to the events of Good Friday. As a loving mother, she had to bear the pain of: 1. Simeon’s prophecy (Lk 2:34-35). 2. The flight into Egypt to keep Jesus save from Herod (Mt 2:13-21). 3. The Loss of Jesus for Three Days (Lk 2:41-50). 4. Watch her Son carry his cross and stagger along to calvary (Jn 19:17). 5. The crucifixion of her Son (Jn 19:18-30). 6. Bear in her arms the lifeless body of her own Son (Jn 19:39-40). 7. Bury her Son (Jn 19:39-42).

Through these seven mysteries, Mary lovingly and willingly united herself to her Son’s sacrifice on the Cross and shared in His self-sacrifice for our redemption. She believed there was a purpose to it, and so she suffered silently and trustingly. 

In Mary, we have an example of patient suffering with Jesus, of carrying our own crosses and following behind the Lord. Let us ask her to intercede for us and inspire in us the sentiments of her own heart, that we might suffer with our Lord thus cruelly treated; and repenting of our sins with bitter tears, we might come to the joys of life everlasting. 

Mother Mary, help us appreciate the good news of Good Friday! Help us suffer with you, for our salvation and the salvation of the world! Help us to patiently await God’s help in times of sorrows and trials. 

(to be continued…)