A week or so ago, I stayed the night at a local monastery with a friend. We got to see, and be partially involved in the day to day life of the Monks there, especially during mealtimes. We sat and ate in silence together while someone read to us, which was actually more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I can't remember what the book was called now, but it was to do with the Passion and what the crucifixion meant, and the point they were reading about was when the Roman soldier stabbed Jesus in the side.
This is where it got interesting and gave me something to think about that I'd never heard taught before. Normally most preachers and sermons talk about the blood and water flowing out as prefiguring baptism, but that's not what was pulled out of in this book we were listening to. No, the main point its author took was that this in fact symbolised the new birth we have now in Christ! Baptism by water was only secondary to this emphasis.
I'd never thought of it this way before but it struck a chord with me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new birth and are born again, just as we are born naturally into this world in blood and water, we can now be born again through Jesus who bled blood and water for us in his death.
But the similarities don't end there. Baptism obviously follows on from this, as does the other sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacraments themselves are all centred around blood and water which point back to the cross which that in itself points to the forgiveness of sin and new birth.
Through “the water of rebirth” we receive the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) that gives new life, and, as Peter says, “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism brings about forgiveness and displays our repentance over our former life.
Similarly, it is through the partaking of the Eucharist that we take on the eternal life that Jesus gives, to become a “partaker of the Lord’s immortality” as Clement of Alexandria wrote, and to make a reality the eating of the bread of life and being sustained by “every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Just as Jesus taught his listeners that they must “eat of the flesh” and “drink his blood” in order to attain eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day (Jn 6:53-54), so we must continue in this practice – though obviously not in a cannibalistic sense (which many early critics of Christianity misunderstood!).
When Jesus first taught about this, many of his disciples abandoned him and turned away saying that it was a “difficult teaching” that was hard to accept. The metaphor is gruesome and vivid, but I believe that that was due to it prefiguring in what was to come when the crucifixion arrived, something which his disciples needed to be prepared for. Jesus later uses this flesh and blood analogy again in the Last Supper when he tells his disciples that the bread and wine are his body and blood which was to be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:26-28).
The Message of the Cross
Paul writes that “the message of the cross is foolishness” in his letter to the Corinthian church – but only to those who can’t accept it. To us who believe, it is the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The sacraments, and Easter time especially, is the constant reminder of that!
It’s easy to see how it may look like foolishness; a man who preached so much about having eternal life and being from God was suddenly (and without resisting) taken away and killed in the most gruesome way known to human history. And then his followers for centuries afterwards celebrate this day and even call it “Good Friday”!
What’s so good about Good Friday though if the saviour is barbarically killed on this day? I wondered that for many years when I was younger, until one day it ‘clicked’. It may not have been a very good day as far as Jesus was concerned, by the fact he was being flogged, beaten and nailed to pieces of wood, but in terms of what he accomplished through his death – that is what makes Good Friday so very good!
The death of Jesus is a very central point to our faith, though only made sense of by the resurrection. This is the Gospel, the Good News, which has been preached the world over since. The Good News is that despite the One who authored Life itself being put to death on a tree (Acts 10:39-40), it is also through him that we are given eternal life and can partake in the resurrection in which Jesus was the first fruits of (1 Cor 15:20).
Irenaeus gives a concise overview of this Gospel message and draws out the dual nature of the tree, when he writes, “by means of a tree, we were made debtors to God. Likewise, by means of a tree, we can obtain the remission of our debt.”.
But what does that mean? In a word: reconcilliation.
We have now been reconciled back to God along with “all things, whether on earth or in heaven”, through Christ in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” making peace “through the blood of the cross” so he can “present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before [God]” – and now, in turn, God has given us who accept and believe the Gospel, the mission to do the same for anyone and everyone else we meet along the way as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:18-20; Col1:19-22)!
Remember, even though it seemed as though death reigned and had won the day on Good Friday, it was actually the total opposite happening in the death of Jesus. He died and took death with him! Whilst the “first adam” brought death, the “last adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45) and in that sense, died the last ever death.
He knew death so that we would not! Now we can look forward to the ultimate reconciliation and redemption of our bodies (and all of creation): the resurrection!
This is the Good News, this is Good Friday.