For God So Loved The World

For God So Loved The World

On Good Friday, we listen to the story of the Passion of Our Lord as told by John the Evangelist. In listening and reflecting, we might find it to be overwhelming because it is a gripping drama that reaches deep within us, evoking the strongest of human emotions, emotions that tug at our hearts. If we were to use words to describe some of these feelings, they might include: anger, fear, sadness, sorrow, and grief. And yet, in the end, mere words will never be able to fully explain what God has done for his people.

Today, a famous image comes to my mind, an image that many of us have witnessed, especially at sporting events or gatherings where a large number of people are in attendance. At these events, a sign is often present and hoisted among the crowd.

John 3:16

Perhaps it is this sign, this scripture verse, that will provide us with a deeper insight on this Good Friday.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Present within this scripture and echoing the famous verses from the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8), there is a two-fold reality: on one hand, the gift of life-giving love; and, on the other, of taking away. And in the background, this Old Testament passage teaches us that there is “a time to every purpose under heaven.” It is these images, of giving and taking away, that are important to us today.

To the casual observer, Good Friday is about taking away. For through the lens of the Passion, we see Jesus being…

Beaten, bruised and scourged;

Subjected to the most intense humiliation as soldiers parade him through the streets of Jerusalem;

Stripped of his clothing and lots cast for it;

Nailed to a cross and hoisted between two criminals;

Subjected to almost every conceivable human cruelty.

And yet, as those surrounding him in the Jerusalem streets and at Calvary (both conspirators and executioners) attempt to deprive him of every human possession and strip him of every human dignity, they are unable to take away from him that which is most important: love. For they cannot remove from him that which is his for all eternity; namely, his love. For he himself is love. And he has told us that …”there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend” (1 John 3:18-19) and that “the Good Shepherd gladly lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

But as friends of Jesus, we are not just casual observers! We have been, or will be, baptized into his body, the Church. Yes, baptized into his life, death, and resurrection. And through our baptism, we have become his friends, followers, and disciples. And he has informed us that we should hold tightly to the Cross and remember the conditions of discipleship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 17:24)

In a unique way, each of us experiences our own Good Fridays. At times in our lives, we have stood near the cross and have felt its hurt and anguish. Perhaps it has been through a serious illness or the death of a loved one. Or perhaps it has been the result of a broken relationship, disability, or terrible disappointment. Whatever the situation, we know that standing near the cross is a painful place to be. But, as followers of Jesus, we know that we are never left alone to hold that cross by ourselves. For we know that standing beside us is Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Having just marked five years of ordination to the diaconate, I have been reflecting upon the ways that I have been privileged to witness with those who have experienced holding the cross: those mentally ill and homeless, who make the alleys and streets of Detroit their home; women walking into a crisis pregnancy center, feeling that they have no place to turn; troubled youth from difficult family circumstances seeing no other future but crime and drugs; and men and women in nursing homes whose spouses and friends have all passed away and whom no one visits.

Some years ago, I also remember holding my own Cross, when my wife and I experienced the death of a child. At the end of the funeral Mass, as I carried my son’s casket out of church, a hand from behind came to rest upon my shoulder that prompted me to stop. It was the hand of my oldest daughter, who wanted to kiss her brother’s casket. To this day, I am convinced that Our Lord used my daughter’s hand to gently touch me and show me His love and assure me that…All will be wellAll will be well

And then I heard the words of St. Theresa of Avila: It is love alone that gives worth to all things.

Today a sign is hoisted among us. It reads, Jesus Christ crucified, who died for our sins. And we have been given a great gift, a gift that even death cannot pierce. The gift? Eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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Written by
Deacon Kurt Godfryd