Reflections on Good Friday: We Preach Christ and Him Crucified
The crucifixion is an historical fact. The crucifixion is at the heart of true faith
The crucifixion and death of Jesus are historical events. They happened. Good Friday recalls this historical truth. We have the witness of all the Gospels, the witness of the early Church, the absence of any relic of Christ's body. From the beginning, Christians, among them the Apostle Paul, "preached Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2)
A suffering, dying God is something possible only because the Son of God in the Incarnation assumed human nature, a nature which we very much know--unlike that of God--can suffer, and can die. The dead corpus of Jesus on the crucifix remained hypostatically united to the Son of God and therefore to the Godhead. Death did not sever this indissoluble link.
For three days, therefore, we learn that we can worship the living God through the dead body of the Lord Jesus while his soul was harrowing Hell. In the crucifixion, we worship the living God through his human body which is dead. This is "Christ crucified," the scandalous Christ, a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others. (1 Cor. 1:23)
The good and well-meaning Roman centurion who exclaimed upon Jesus' death, "Surely this was the Son of God" got his theology wrong. He should have said, "Surely this is the Son of God," for the body hanging lifeless on the cross still remained united to the Son of God who was very much alive.
In the storehouse of the Church's hymns, among the most haunting, the most beautiful are those that pertain to this day.
O Crux ave, spes unica,
Hoc Passionis tempore!
Piis adauge gratiam,
Reisque dele crimina.
O hail the Cross our only hope
In this passiontide!
Grant increase of grace to believers
And remove the sins of the guilty.
In the hymn Crux Fidelis, we sing the words:
Pange, lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis
Et super crucis trophaeo dic triumphum nobilem,
Qualiter redemptor orbis immolatus vicerit.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory; tell His triumph far and wide;
Tell aloud the famous story of His body crucified;
How upon the cross a victim, vanquishing in death, He died.
The crucifixion and death of Jesus are historical events. They happened. Good Friday recalls this historical truth. We have the witness of all the Gospels, the witness of the early Church, the absence of any relic of Christ's body. From the beginning, Christians--among them the Apostle Paul--preached "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2) This Jesus, St. Paul tells the Philippians, was obedient "unto death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:8) This Jesus, St. Peter tells his people, we through our sins "killed, using lawless men to crucify him," to the boon of all mankind. (Acts 2:23) O Felix Culpa! O Happy Fault!
The crucifixion and death is testified to even by early Jewish and Pagan historians, as in the so-called Testimonium Flavanium, where the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities states in passing that Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death on the cross. The 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata in his Passing of Peregrinus ridicules Christians for worshiping "the crucified sage" or "crucified sophist." This satire is seen in particularly striking form in the 1st century Alexamenos graffito (also known as the graffito blasfemo), which shows Jesus as a donkey crucified on the cross and contains the words in Greek, "Alexander worships God."
Thus the crucifixion is vouched for by unbelieving Jewish historians for whom it is a stumbling block, and even in an oblique or blasphemous way by Greek satirists and Roman schoolboys for whom it is foolishness.
It is part of our ritual on Good Friday to venerate the Holy Cross in a particularly striking and memorable way. This devotion to the Holy Cross is carried through the entire year in our devotions, in our Stations of the Cross, where we worship Christ and bless him, for by his Holy Cross he redeemed the world.
The "Prayer Before a Crucifix" is a popular and richly-indulgenced prayer.
Behold, O good and sweetest Jesus,
I cast myself upon my knees in Thy sight,
and with the most fervent desire of my soul
I pray and beseech Thee
to impress upon my heart
lively sentiments of faith,
hope and charity,
with true repentance for my sins
and a most firm desire of amendment.
Whilst with deep affection and grief of soul
I consider within myself
and mentally contemplate
Thy five most precious wounds,
having before mine eyes that which David,
the prophet, long ago spoke concerning Thee,
"They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones."
In the Litany of the Holy Cross, we identify the instrument of the crucifixion and death of Christ--the Cross--as something heralded by the prophets, preached by the apostles, as the instrument which caused the salvation of the world.
But--alas--not all the world, and not all who claimed to be a prophet or apostle of the most high God preached the Cross. Tragically, there are more than one billion Muslims who, following the lead of the self-acclaimed prophet Muhammad, deny the crucifixion and deny the redemptive death of Jesus. This is a cause for great sadness.
Why do Muslims reject the crucifixion and death of Jesus whom they acknowledge as prophet? Because of historical reasons? No. On the witness of one man, Muhammad, a man who did not know Christ.
The Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, unambiguously denies the historical crucifixion and death of Jesus. In Surah an-Nisa 4:157 we read with respect to Jesus: "And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him," ma qataluhu wama salabuhu. Instead, the Qur'an continues, it was only made to appear so, wa laakin shubbiha lahum.
Through sheer faith, against all historical evidence, Muslims are irrationally bound, by the word of their alleged prophet, to deny history, to deny the Cross, and to deny God's chosen instrument of their redemption. This is a tragedy of the first proportion.
The Jesus of the Qur'an is not "Jesus crucified." The Jesus of the Qur'an is a paper Jesus. The Jesus of the Qur'an is in fact not the real Jesus at all.
St. Augustine had cause to address the issue of those who denied the reality of the crucifixion. Although Muhammad was not yet born when St. Augustine preached his words, the heretical Docetists--from whom perhaps directly or indirectly Muhammad obtained his false ideas--denied the crucifixion and death of Christ. To the Docetists--the name comes from the Greek dokeo "to seem"--Christ did not suffer and die on the Cross, he just seemed to do so.
To deny the crucifixion was, in St. Augustine's eyes, vanity or futility.
"It would indeed be vanity," St. Augustine tells his flock in one of his sermons, "if we were to say that Christ had not really undergone death but only pretended to, that those wounds of his were phantom wounds, that it was not genuine but faked blood that flowed from the wounds, that he later showed his disciples unreal scars after unreal wounds."
Those who deny the reality of the crucifixion, whether in ordinary history or its deeper significant in sacred history, "are frogs croaking in a muddy marsh," says St. Augustine. They can make a noise with their voices; they cannot instill the teaching of wisdom." They cannot instill the teaching of wisdom because they deny the truth "which is the Word made flesh and dwelling among us; the truth, Christ born of God, the One from One, only-begotten and co-eternal; the truth, who took the form of a servant and was born of the virgin Mary, suffered, was crucified, rose, ascended; all the time, truth."
We, of course, do not know what went through the mind of Muhammad when, in the name of Allah, he rejected the passion, crucifixion, and death of his Redeemer, a Redeemer he denied with the ranine words of the Qur'an which so offend against history and so offend against God.
What we do know is that Muhammad led, and continues to lead even after his death, billions of our human brothers and sisters astray, away from the Jesus on the Cross who suffered, died, and rose again for their sins, the sins of the sons of Ishmael, as well as the sins of the sons of Isaac, and indeed the sins of all mankind.
In the declaration Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council stated that the "plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims." This is a truism: God wills the salvation of all mankind, including the Muslims. What Nostra aetate does not say about the followers of Muhammad, but what is certainly true, is that the plan of salvation for them is not Muhammad, but, like all the rest of mankind, "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
On Good Friday, before the crucifix, let us say a prayer for the conversion of our Muslim brothers and sisters, that they may embrace the Cross, as the Jesus on the cross seeks to embrace them.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for June 2015
Universal: That immigrants and refugees may find welcome and respect in the countries to which they come.
Evangelization: That the personal encounter with Jesus may arouse in many young people the desire to offer their own lives in priesthood or consecrated life.
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