Death on a Friday Afternoon

Selections from Richard John Neuhaus,  Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Basic Books, 2000).

“Christians call them the Triduum Sacrum, the three most sacred days of all time when time is truly told. The fist, Maundy Thursday, is so called because that night, the night before he was betrayed, Jesus gave the command, the mandatum, that we should love one another . . . The second day is the Friday we so oddly call ‘good.’ And the third day, the great Vigil of Resurrection Conquest. Do not rush to the conquest. Stay a while with this day. Let your heart be broken by the unspeakably bad of this Friday we call good . . . let your present moment stay with this day. Stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter.” (1-2)

“Good Friday brings us to our senses. Our senses come to us as we sense that in this life and in this death is our life and our death. The truth about the crucified Lord is the truth about ourselves . . . The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know that fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home.” (4)

“Over the centuries theologians have contrived wondrously refined theories of the atonement. Why is it that this One had to die, why is it that his dying is for us death’s death, why is it that his open tomb opens for every last child of earth the door to tomorrows without end. And all the theories of atonement are but probings into mystery, the mystery of a love that did not have to be but was, and is.” (7-8)

“Reconciliation must do justice to what went wrong. It will not do to merely overlook the wrong. We could not bear to live in a world where wrong is taken lightly, where right and wrong finally make no difference. In such a world, we—what we do and what we are—would make no difference. Spare me a gospel of easy love that makes of my life a thing without consequence.” (9)

“And yet forgiveness costs. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness, not counting their trespasses is not a kindly accountant winking at what is wrong; it it not a benign cooking of the books. In the world, in our own lives, something has gone dreadfully wrong, and it must be set right.” (10-11)

“We would draw the line between ourselves and the really big-time sinners. For them the cross may be necessary. For us a forgiving wink from an understanding Deity will set things to right. But the ‘big time’ of sinning is in every human heart. We make small our selves when we make small our sins.” (19)

“The great reversal reverses all our preconceptions. God must become what we are in order that we might become what God is. To effectively take our part, he must take our place.” (30)

“In him we, God and man, are perfectly one. At-one-ment. Here, through the cross, we have come home, home to the truth about ourselves, home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good.” (34)

“Jesus does not reject any who turn to him. At times we turn to him with little faith, at times with a mix of faith and doubt when we are more sure of the doubt than of the faith. Jesus is not fastidious about the quality of our faith. He takes what he can get, so to speak, and gives immeasurably more than he receives. He takes our faith more seriously than we do and makes of it more than we ever could. His response to our faith is greater than our faith.” (37-8)

“The Gospel is sometimes presented as though God is running a desperate rescue mission, saving a few survivors from the shipwreck of what had been his hopes for creation . . . God’s plan is not to rescue a religious elite from an otherwise botched creation but to restore all things in Christ.” (44-5)

“In the cross we see that of which humanity is capable: self-transcendence in surrender to the Other. All the evidence to the contrary, we are capable of love. The sign of shame and death becomes the sign of cosmic possibility.” (93-4)

“The gnostic impulse is still very much with us. We draw back from looking long and hard into the heart of darkness; we recoil from the brute facticity of the horror; we are scandalized by the truth that we worship a crucified God. As well we should be.” (120)

“Christians must hope that hell is empty, that the mercy of God reaches also those who willed damnation for themselves, that God draws them back despite themselves, into the heart of love.” (143)

“If, as St. Paul says, Christ who knew no sin was made sin for us, can there be any sin he did not bear there on the cross? If the answer is no, as I believe it must be, then even the utterly forsaken are not bereft of the company of the utterly forsaken one, the Son of God, and therefore not bereft of hope.” (143)

“For him the whole world thirsts, and Christ thirsts for the thirsty, hungers for the hungry, yearns for the yearning.” (183)

“The atonement is not a quantitative matter. It is not as though there is a certain amount of wrong for which a certain amount of punishment is due, and so somebody must be found to take the punishment . . . Christ’s atoning sacrifice is not about quantities of sin and punishment but is intensely personal. It is the mending of a personal relationship between God and humanity that had been broken.” (220-1)

“Is it really true that absolutely nobody is beyond the loving reach of the cross? Has the way home been cleared for absolutely every prodigal son and daughter? Is there not even one lost sheep who is not found by the Good Shepherd? No, not one. Some decline to take the way home; some persist in getting lost again and again. But the high priest who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice has been tempted in every respect as we are. That means that there is nobody in any circumstance where he has not been as well.” (225)

“To prodigal children lost in a distant land, to disciples who forsook him and fled, to a thief  who believed or maybe took pity and pretended to believe, to those who did not know that what they did they did to God, to the whole bedraggled company of humankind he had abandoned heaven to join, he says: ‘Come. Everything is ready now. In your fears and your laughter, in your friendships and farewells, in your loves and losses, in what you have been able to do and in what you know you will never get done, come follow me. We are going home to the waiting Father.'” (260)





2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thank you for these beautiful, powerful words, and for everything else you’ve been sharing here lately.

  2. Thanks, Michelle! I’m so glad you liked this (and other posts here). I’m (obviously) in a kind of manic writing mode right now, so I’m grateful to have readers!


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