In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayer and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
As children I suspect most of us found inscrutable the fact that we called this solemn day, when annually we commemorated the crucifixion and death of Jesus, “Good Friday.” In time we learned that it was “good” for us because it was the day on which we were saved, on which Jesus atoned for our sins. Yet, at least for me, this explanation never really seemed adequate. Year by year, however, I seem, by experience, to live into an ever-developing understanding of the meaning of this day and of how Jesus teaches us through it how we are to come to know in our lives the way of truly living and the true meaning of love.
Yesterday I received from a friend the text of a reflection he had offered. He begins the reflection with the following words of the founder of his institute, Father André Coindre: God’s heart—that is, Jesus—is “a treasure always open and always full. This treasure resides in our own hearts and enables us to speak about God with streams of fire and love.” Every great wisdom and faith tradition has a unique insight into the mystery of life and of God. In Christianity it is clearly the place of love and forgiveness. Jesus is the Word of God’s love, a love that is always being “poured out” for us and that in turn is the very foundation and wellspring of life in our own hearts. When we live in that love that is the life of our own heart, we then “speak about God with streams of fire and love.” When we are alienated from that love, anything we try to “say” about God is wan and loveless.
Good Friday is indeed “good” because Jesus invites us into the mystery of God’s love by suffering his life to the end in obedience. It is the “passion” of Jesus that draws us into the life and love of God and so is “the source of eternal salvation.” It is in the passion of Jesus that we come to recognize the purpose and end of our lives, the way to learn the love that is the life of God and God-in-us.
Recently we have been attempting as a community of brothers to learn together how better to be related to and to love one another. This may seem strange to speak about men having lived a way of life for decades now, in their older age, attempting to discover possibilities in our brotherhood that we have often not known or experienced. Yet, we are discovering how the overcoming of distances between each other and even within ourselves is always a new and difficult work. As we enter more and more deeply into this attempt to better “love one another,” I am learning how difficult it is for me to remain present to and living from my heart. Over time the disillusionments and discouragements of life and relationship lead us to distance and withdraw, not only from one another but from the deepest desires of our very selves. The result is a routine and repetitive existence that is no longer sourced by the “fire and love” of the treasure of God within us, but rather becomes an attempt to get through life with a modicum of comfort and human respect. So, we no longer live the passion of our own lives but rather a certain socially constructed mediocrity which feels safer and, at one level, more comfortable but that lacks the deepest love, joy, and peace that is the treasure we hold in the “earthen vessels” that we are.
On what we call Good Friday, Jesus breaks open his earthen vessel, as the woman had earlier broken open the jar of oil in order to anoint his feet. What we call salvation breaks through the broken heart of Jesus. The “way” to live that Good Friday teaches us is for us to do the same. When we would withhold ourselves because of our discouragement or fear, when we would fall silent rather than communicate to another what we are being given to say, when we would distance rather than move closer to those we love or should love, we are choosing to settle for less of life.
In our current feeble efforts in the community to give more of ourselves to each other and, in turn, to receive more fully what the others are offering us, we are, at least occasionally, glimpsing the “goodness” of Good Friday. Objectively there is nothing but horror about this day. But subjectively we see Jesus fulfilling his call, loving to the end, and ultimately paying the ultimate price for that loving vulnerability, and yet at that very moment not only being saved but being “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” And to “obey him” is to follow the way that he is going.
When I was young, I couldn’t begin at all to understand this because I had not yet known the experience of being called to offer my heart to others, to my work, to my call at moments when to do so seemed beyond me. I hadn’t yet realized that life is a continual series of choices to give or to withhold our love. I hadn’t yet experienced in adult form the fear and even terror that comes with offering myself where I sense it will not be accepted. I could not yet reflect on how often in everyday life I would be making the choice to care about and for or to resist and resent.
Although we probably most often cannot describe our call, the work we are called to do, in words, we know experientially what our true work is in the moment. We know that each moment is a choice to give or to withhold the treasure of our hearts. If our deeds and words of God so often lack fire and love, it is because they are not “whole-hearted.” It is because they are ideas which are not really costing us in the moment. They blaze with fire and love when, as Jesus, we are drinking our cup to the end, when we have made for the moment the choice not to withhold ourselves from the love of the others. And, perhaps, the great surprise we then experience is a joy that we felt impossible for us. At the very moment we dare to give our selves away, we experience existing more completely than ever before. We experience a life that is so much more than that for which we ordinarily settle. This is the life that we, in our tradition, say comes to us through the obedient suffering of Jesus. We come to know this life when we, obeying by following Jesus’ way and example, give all of the little we have in love at any given moment.
The meaning of Good Friday becomes revealed, at least to me, slowly but inexorably through the years. Life is always forming us and attempting to reform us, that we might become transformed. It teaches and purifies us through the fire of our own life experience about ourselves, others, the world, and God. No less than Jesus, we are called to learn obedience by what we suffer. We suffer the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of life; we suffer the joys and the pains of our relationships; we suffer the beauty and the misery of our world. Through it all, we are called to come close to and not to withdraw from life: in ourselves, in those we live with and encounter, and in the world. To be so formed by life is to be called beyond who we take ourselves to be, beyond our own tendencies to care for and coddle a self of our own making. it is rather to dare to give from our lack and so touch the treasure in our hearts that we tend, far too often, to bury. That life is so much more than what we usually take it to be is the really good news, and we discover that truth as we follow our unique call for the world all the way to the end.
Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?
Then crouch within the door —
Red — is the Fire’s common tint —
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame’s conditions —
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the Light
Of unannointed Blaze —
Least Village, boasts it’s Blacksmith —
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs — within —
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the designated Light
Repudiate the Forge —