Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
In the last great plague God visited upon Egypt, he killed all the first-born among animals and among every human family—but not in the community of the Jews in Egypt. In that community each family put the blood of a lamb on its doorpost and there was no death among any of them. In the Exodus from Egypt, God instituted the Passover for the Jewish community. Every year, the Jews were to celebrate their liberation from Egypt by offering God a lamb, in the place of their firstborn, whom God spared. During the Exodus, God also commanded the Jews not to eat the blood of anything. In Egypt, blood was smeared on the doorpost to save the Jews from death. And so meat with blood in it wasn’t for ordinary eating.
Now we are conscious that there are things more destructive to human wellbeing than slavery in Egypt. Within every human being, there is slavery to the evil that kills beauty and joy. There is also something worse than biological death. There is a living death that never ends, and it is more to be feared than the death of the body.
And so on Good Friday all the old images are exploded in complicated patterns theologians have traced for ages. There is still a first-born son who dies. But now it is the first-born son of God. He dies in order to free us from our slavery not to Egypt but to sin. The death of the Paschal lamb keeps us from the living death into which our sins bury us.
And now in the liturgy we drink blood, the blood of the incarnate Son of God. When we do, that blood is not transformed into our bodies, as ordinary food is. Instead, it makes us into the body of the Lord, whose blood it is. Then his Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, uniting us to God.
What a wild love it is that does these things, that suffers these things! What can anyone say to do it justice? Stillness before it is our best response.
The Psalm for Easter Sunday says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Above all days, Easter is a day of joy .
But what is joy? The answer St. Francis gave to this question is famous. St. Francis said to his Brother Leo, “When we come to St. Mary of the Angels [our house], soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ And we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And … he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls—then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, … oh, Brother Leo, … perfect joy is there!”*
Whatever we may think of St. Francis’s explanation of perfect joy, Easter reminds us that Francis’s kind of joy is not the end of the story. At Easter, we celebrate the other kind of joy, the kind each of us longs for, when every tear is wiped away, and there is no sorrow anymore—no more suffering from weather or hunger or hurtful human beings. As we sing in the much-loved hymn by Fr. John Foley, SJ, at Easter, “the cross and passion past, dark night is done, bright morning come at last!”** When we ourselves rise to meet our risen Lord, in that bright morning we will hear him say, “Come away, beloved. The winter is past; the rain is gone, and the flowers return to the earth” (Song of Songs 2:10-12). In the loving union of that encounter, all the heartbrokenness of our lives will be redeemed. That will be perfect joy.
If all we had was the joy St. Francis describes, our courage might fail us in this life. Easter celebrates now the perfect joy waiting for us when we and all creation are reborn with our resurrected Lord into the everlasting love of God. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
* From The Little Flowers of St. Francis, available online here.
** All Shall Be Well: Words © 1984, Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL. All rights reserved. Music © 1985, John B. Foley, SJ Published by OCP Publications, 5536 N. E. Hassalo, Portland OR 97213.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University