This is probably one of the most difficult, most challenging, most brutal passages in all of scripture.
Here we have details that make the passion tangible and immediate and raw. Here, in St. John’s gospel, we have weapons and torches. We have the thorns. There is the purple cloak. The bitter wine. The poignant moment between Jesus and his mother. Christ’s pierced side. The flowing blood and water. All the details that, together, paint an indelible portrait of the passion and make it inescapably real.
But there is also one detail in St. John’s gospel that puts everything we have experienced this day into context. It reminds us of where we have been, and what will be.
John begins this account, and ends it, in the same unexpected place:
In the beginning, a garden is the scene of Christ’s agony and betrayal. At the end of this passage, another garden is the place where he is buried.
If it sounds familiar, it should.
John is reminding us of Eden—with Jesus Christ, the new Adam.
We are back where it all began.
But the place where man fell becomes the place where the new man will rise. The world will be remade. Another Genesis, another beginning, is about to unfold.
In the setting where human history went wrong, God will make it right.
We are back where it all began. But with a difference.
Behold, God tells us, I make all things new.
But just as the first Genesis began in a void, so does this one. Our liturgy today echoes that. In fact, what we are experiencing during this Triduum—these three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—is one extended liturgy. There was no dismissal or closing for last night’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. There was no sign of the cross to begin this liturgy today. We are continuing what we began yesterday, and it won’t conclude until tomorrow.
But the absence we experience is profound. No bells. No consecration. A bare altar. An empty tabernacle. David Close, our music director, said to me yesterday, it feels almost like time has stopped. He’s right. It does. We hang in a moment of suspended time, waiting for the explosive moment in the Easter Vigil tomorrow, when God will say, “Let there be light,” and this church and our world will once again be ablaze.
But here, and now, we wait. We grieve. We mourn. We hope.
And our eyes turn to the cross.
In Eden, a tree brought about our condemnation. Today, another tree brings about our redemption. Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.
And when you think about it, the fruit from that tree —what it brought us, what it gives us—is incalculable.
I would argue it is one reason why this Friday should not be called “good.” It should be called “Great.”
Near the end of this gospel account, Christ utters his last words: “It is finished.”
All the suffering, the bloodshed, the sacrifice, the humiliation comes to an end.
But the story isn’t over.
He will be buried in a garden.
A seed will be planted.
It isn’t finished.
In fact, it is just beginning.