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Terrance KleinApril 06, 2023
the iesus christus rex iudaeorum atop the crucifix in diego velazquez painting of jesus on the rossDetail from Diego Velázquez's "Christ Crucified" (Wikimedia Commons)

A Homily for Good Friday

Readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12 Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 John 18:1–19:42

I now preside at the same altar I frequented as a child. Such stability seems excessive, but the deepest truths dawn ever so slowly. Rootedness can be a great revealer.

Over this altar, in gold, gothic letters against an oak panel, is the Latin inscription Consummatum est, the last words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of St. John. “It is finished.”

Even in the Greek, Τετέλεσται, the subject “it” (present not as a separate word but within the ending of the verb) raises the question, “What is finished?” What is this “it”? Would it not make more sense for Jesus to say, “I am finished?”

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus dies oblivious of himself because his focus has always been beyond himself. He has come among us to do the will of the Father (Jn 6:38). He is the very expression of the Father (Jn 14:9).

For the evangelist, it is the hour of glory because on the cross the Son becomes the clearest, the deepest revelation of the Father’s glory.

Even though in this Gospel Jesus makes the Mosaic name for God his own seven times—I am—the Son seems to have no personal identity apart from the mission he receives from his Father. There are parents who forget who they were before they became parents; lovers who lose their identity in the beloved. This is Jesus. He is the manifestation, the very expression, of the Father.

Jesus’ “Hour of Glory,” the paradoxical term St. John uses to describe the passion of Jesus, closes with his death. For the evangelist, it is the hour of glory because on the cross the Son becomes the clearest, the deepest revelation of the Father’s glory.

Pondering this, we come to see that the cross, Christ’s hour of glory, reveals the entire Trinity because, as he insisted, there can be no separation, no distance, between Father and Son. If the Son dies upon the cross, the heart of the Father does as well. The Holy Spirit, their bond of love, is also there, because in the death of the Son, in the rupture of the Father’s heart, nothing else could possibly hold them together. One might say that the Trinity itself comes to the cross to die in Christ.

None of the divine persons can die in their divinity. The Son dies in the humanity that he assumed, and in this same death, the Father receives the utter destruction of his proffered love. This is death, because, unlike us, the Father is nothing but love. On the cross, when Jesus dies, the Spirit, who is the great sinew, holding together Father and Son, creation and its creator, is expelled from the Son.

In breathing out the Spirit, God is sundered from God. The Son and the Father have both sacrificed themselves.

Why has the Trinity come to the cross? Because “it” had to be finished. The cross is what remains of a humanity shorn from its creator. To retrieve its own, God as Trinity travels to the far point, the place most distant from God, the very womb of hell.

Bowing his head, Jesus breathes his last, like any other man, but St. John writes, “he handed over the Spirit.” This is no earthly exhalation. In breathing out the Spirit, God is sundered from God. The Son and the Father have both sacrificed themselves. They have sundered their bond of love, surrendered their selves because they are nothing but love.

Breathed out from the Son, the handed-over Spirit again hovers over chaos as it did in the world’s creation.

It is finished. The world of the first creation, a world lost to its own creator, closes in the darkness of Calvary.

It is finished. Then, and only then, the Spirit begins to breathe over the waters.

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