Good Friday retreat: From 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
If Holy Thursday is characterized
by the silence of stones,
what distinguishes Good Friday
is a conspicuous absence of angels.
The Lord refused the desert temptation
to throw himself down from the temple top
to call on the angels.
But it is precisely what he did on the hill in Calvary:
He threw himself down into the hands of his enemies.
Only, he still refused to summon his angels
even though the entire host of them hovered over him
ready to do his bidding any time.
Our Lord took the plunge
resulting in his death.
Imagine a slow, painful, and humiliating death,
and all throughout the process,
the antidote that can end all your suffering
lies just within your reach.
What would you do?
Isn’t it a no-brainer?
Wouldn’t you simply reach for the switch
and flick it –
and just like that
ease your pain and save yourself?
Not for the Lord.
He chose to stay on the cross,
rejected by his people,
mocked by the priests, scribes, and soldiers.
We all know his reason for doing that,
for going all the way.
The one and only reason is love.
He could have changed his mind any time.
He could have taken the devil’s advice
and dialed the heavenly 911
for immediate angelic rescue.
But he chose to stay.
It’s quite bewildering
this insistence on “going all the way.”
This bewilderment is captured in what for me
is one of the best – but lesser known – songs
in the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera
Jesus Christ Superstar.
The song is called, “Could We Start Again Please?”
In the musical, Jesus has been arrested,
and it is clear that he will be executed.
Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and the other disciples
watch Jesus from a distance and sing to him with a plea:
“I think you’ve made your point now.
You’ve even gone a bit too far to get your message home…
Could we start again please?”
When you think about it,
this is just a slightly different version
of his second temptation in the desert:
the temptation of a miraculous rescue.
You may want to watch this scene
from the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar.
As you do so,
let the disciples’ bewilderment and fears speak to you,
and watch our Lord quietly turn away and walk away
from this temptation.
The second temptation in the desert
is based on our need for support and affirmation.
By letting go of angels and foregoing their rescue,
our Lord showed us that he would follow God’s will
even if it meant not getting any support and affirmation,
and worse, embracing dishonor and humiliation.
The Romans designed crucifixion
not only as a physically painful death,
but also as a psychologically intolerable one.
Our Lord experienced the most humiliating death
on the cross: He was stripped completely naked,
and subjected to non-stop mockery from the crowd:
“He was despised,
and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53)
On the cross
the Lord teaches us how to respond
when others hurt us and mock us.
As he did on Holy Thursday,
our Lord subverts yet another so-called wise saying:
“Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
It cautions us against enemies who pretend to be meek and gentle
only to pounce on us when we’re not looking:
But our Lord does the opposite.
He, who can read hearts,
sees the flicker of good in the hearts
of even the most wicked among us.
He recognizes that many people victimize others
only because they themselves have been victimized.
They’ve turned evil
only because they themselves have been terrified and traumatized,
hurt and hardened.
Instead of bewaring of “wolves in sheep’s clothing,”
our Lord asks us to look beyond the wolves in others
and to love the sheep hiding in wolves’ clothing.
Again, it is a tall order.
It is one of those realities in life
that are hard to perceive.
A Day of Tears
We must allow Good Friday
to be a day of tears.
Why and what for?
Pope Francis explains it best:
The suffering of our Lord Jesus
and his death on the cross,
as well as the lessons he teaches us,
are examples of such realities.
They can only be through tear-drenched eyes.
If we put on a scholar’s hat
or a scientist’s cap,
using an objective eye to assess the crucifixion,
we would fail to make any sense of them!
Like many realities – and mysteries – in this world of ours,
the death of the Lord and its message for us
cannot be understood
if we rely on a so-called objective – or cold and distant – perspective.
We need to gaze upon him
with a heart soaked in tears.
Feather vector via Shutterstock
Flock of sheep image via Shutterstock