As a child, I often wondered why we would call this most holy of days “good.” Good Friday is the height of the Church’s reenactment of the Passion of Christ. We read the entire passion narrative from the Gospel, then symbolically empty our tabernacles of the Eucharist. We further cover our statues, and depart from the church in total silence. Sure doesn’t seem good to me. Right?
From a human perspective, this is indeed not a good event. But we need the eyes of faith to see the fruit of the events of this holy day. Christ, in an unimaginable act of condescension, took on a human nature in the mystery of the Incarnation. Then the Nativity follows, and the real mystery of Christ’s life begins. He walks among us fully human, while never losing his divinity. St. Paul penned perhaps the most memorable expression of this seeming contradiction in his epistle to the Philippians:
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phi. 2: 6-11)
In the human arena, it is might and power that are esteemed and prized. But Christ, in undoing the grasping and striving of Adam and Eve to be like God, instead allows himself to be forsaken and put to death in a most scandalous way. Outstretched on the Cross, on Good Friday, Christ shows us the image of true love, which is sacrifice and self-giving. As Christ held back nothing, giving his very life, so we too are called to give deeply of ourselves. This is the foundation of the spiritual life, but it is also its peak.
It is precisely by His death on the Cross, in fact, that Christ draws near to us, and draws us near to him. The image of His death on the Cross also, of course, bears with it the image of the Lamb of God who dies for us, and gives us his own flesh to eat. St. John Chrysostom writes beautifully about this in today’s Office of Readings:
“There flowed from his side water and blood.” Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolised baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit,” and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death. Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat?