When I was a child, I’d hear this account of Christ’s Passion and I’d keep hoping it would have another ending.
I hoped that the soldiers would turn back…or Pilate would change his mind…or the people would cry out for Jesus to be the one freed instead of Barabbas. What happens is so heart-wrenching and heartbreaking—you just don’t want to imagine that this is the way it happened. There has to be another ending.
But there isn’t. It is inevitable. And the effect is devastating.
Our experience of this reading this afternoon is heightened by everything around us. There is a profound sense of loss, of absence, in the church right now. No bells. No decorations. Mournful music. An empty tabernacle. A bare altar. Red vestments—a symbol of martyrdom, a reminder of blood that was shed. This is the only day in the Church calendar when the Mass is not celebrated. We are almost in a state of suspended animation. All we can do is remember once more what was given for us. We reflect. We relive it. We grieve.
In many places, people turn off the TV or the radio or the computer. In chapels and churches around the world this day, people pray the Stations of the Cross and retrace Christ’s steps and recite the ancient words that are engraved in our hearts:
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
The holy cross. The cross this day is our signpost, our True North, the center of our worship, and for good reason: because we embrace in a profound way its meaning, its power, and even its necessity. In a few moments we will venerate it with a kiss—expressing in some small way that this instrument of suffering was also the key that unlocked for us our salvation.
The cross, we affirm, was a means to an end, not an end itself.
Yet, for all its sorrow and pain, all its drama and tragedy, this account of Christ’s passion and death offers us something else, something that may seem contradictory.
It gives us reason to hope. And it’s there in the words we just heard.
St. John’s story of the passion is bracketed, bookended, with a detail that is easy to overlook:
It begins and ends in a garden.
The detail is no coincidence. John is giving us an echo of Eden—where man’s journey on earth began, and where he fell from grace. But now, we have a new Adam, Christ, who steps into the garden to face betrayal and suffering and judgment and death.
And when it is all over, it is to a garden where he is returned after the crucifixion—to a new tomb, to await the Resurrection.
The implication here is profoundly beautiful.
With his Passion, Christ gave us a new Genesis. He remade the world. He offered us a new beginning, a new chance, a new way of going forward.
We were given a new Adam, and a new Eden.
This gospel indicates that the garden, the site of man’s fall, became the place where he would rise.
I mentioned that the Church does not celebrate Mass this day. In fact, there are only two sacraments that are offered on the day we commemorate the crucifixion: Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick.
These are sacraments of renewal and forgiveness and healing. They underscore what this day is about—and point to one reason why we call this Friday Good.
Because of what happened this day, we can begin again.
Because of what happened this day, our world has been remade.
Christ’s last words in this gospel tell us: “It is finished.”
But what is finished?
Christ’s earthly life is finished.
A long chapter in human history is finished.
Our old way of living is finished.
Humanity’s wait for a savior is finished.
And as much as we may want this gospel to have another ending, we realize that God’s overwhelming love gave us something better.
One chapter is finished, yes.
But the story isn’t over.