A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
This reading is one of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” songs. The early Christians, who were almost all Jews, related this passage to Jesus. He suffered rejection, torture, and death, but He did not turn back and was not disgraced. The early community could believe that about Jesus even though he had a terrible death, because they also believed in his Resurrection. He lives!
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus could very well have felt abandoned, but he made it through terrible torture, because his Father was with him. Our Father has given us his Spirit who lives within us. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit in our times of greatest suffering. It is not as though we will suddenly be freed from that suffering, but the Spirit will remain with us and help us to make it through.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians
This is an early Christian hymn in which Jesus is said to have “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…. he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” St. Paul wants the truth of this hymn to live forever, so he includes it in his letter to the Philippians so everyone will know the lengths Jesus was willing to go to follow his calling.
As we experience suffering in our own lives, it is important for us to remember that our Savior, our God, became human, suffered profoundly, beyond any suffering of ours. It is sometimes hard to remember, since we also believe that Jesus overcame suffering and even death in his Resurrection. But that is the point. Our God is not far from us. In Jesus he has humbled himself in the most ignominious way to experience deep human suffering, to know what it means to be human at the most painful depths.
Although he was God, he suffered—not only the pain of scourging and death, but also indifference, rejection, and betrayal. But he promised that, just as he overcame death in the end, we will overcome the pains and limitations of this world when we rise to eternal life in the presence of God.
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark
This is it. This is the story. You have heard it perhaps a hundred times. How can you hear it on another level today? Try to enter into the story. Imagine yourself at the scenes of these events. If you are reading this after you have heard the Passion story today, try to remember something powerful that touched you. Attend the Good Friday service and hear the Passion according to John’s Gospel. Spend a few minutes with your New Testament, and read the story again. See the face of Jesus.
Enter into the heart of his mother, Mary, who witnessed these things. Put yourself into the sandals of his disciples, and feel the fear they experienced. Would they be next? Part of our problem with the Passion story is familiarity. It can seem like old news. But it is eternal good news, because it points beyond today to the Resurrection which is not an event that involved one person but promise to us that—because of the sacrifice we read about today, we, too, can live forever. If you truly believe that, everything changes forever in your life. There is a peace that abides with you even in the midst of suffering and death itself.
Painting: Christ at the Column, Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio), 1606. Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.