Here is Archbishop Cushley's Homily from Friday of the Passion of the Lord at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we stand again on Mount Calvary, empty and silent, as the dark but glorious victory of the Cross in accomplished.
Last night, at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we began our journey by listening to a text from Exodus, that starts with the choice of a lamb that will be put to death in the Jewish Passover.
The lamb is to be drawn from among the people’s flocks of sheep or goats, but the lamb needs to be without blemish.
It is killed ritually at twilight, its flesh is eaten, and its blood is the sign that will deliver the people from death.
God will pass over people of Israel’s houses and they will be spared and given life.
In John’s account of today’s events, when Jesus is put to death, the Jewish Passover is still to be celebrated, in a few days’ time.
Jesus’s betrayal and trial and death are about to intervene, and he is not going to be able to celebrate the actual Passover with his disciples. The lambs used at the Jewish Passover, weren’t yet ready.
They hadn’t been sacrificed. Instead, at the last Supper, Jesus takes important elements of the Passover meal, recasts them using bread and wine, and the Eucharist – the memorial of his death - are born, in anticipation of today’s events and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
At the last Supper, the usual Passover lamb is absent, because they’ve not been sacrificed. That will happen the next afternoon at twilight.
And so, Jesus dies as the very lambs to be used in the Passover are being put to death in the Temple, in preparation for the Passover. Two important things flow from this.
First, that Jesus is crucified at the same time as the lambs are put to death for the Passover feast. Secondly, that Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
‘This is my body’
On the night before he dies, instead of sharing a roasted lamb, he takes the bread, and says, “This is my body, which is for you, do this as a memorial of me”.
He takes the cup after supper – again, an element of the Jewish Passover, but he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me”.
These words are as close to the Lord’s own words as we can come.
And they show us how Jesus reveals himself the Lamb of God.
He is offering himself as the Lamb whose death will deliver his people from death in Egypt, whose life is given up knowingly, willingly, before the events today actually come to pass.
Today, therefore, on Good Friday, by a very ancient tradition, we listen to John’s account of the Passion, not that of the Synoptics.
John’s account differs in its timing, and is currently considered by scholars to be the one closest to the historic events themselves.
This is for a number of reasons that need not detain us here; suffice to say that in John we see that Jesus’s trial and execution take place in such a way that he dies on the Cross just as the lambs are being sacrificed in the Temple on the day of preparation for the upcoming Passover.
On Thursday, Jesus consciously takes the Old Covenant and updates it.
He recalls the liberation of God’s People from slavery in Egypt, and declares the New Covenant, our liberation from slavery to sin and death, and delivery into a new land, a new paradise for all God’s true assembly, the Church.
And on Friday, just as the lambs were sacrificed in the first Passover before the Hebrews fled Pharaoh, so Jesus indicates his own death as the new and definitive Lamb of God, and points to his own blood as the perfect saving sacrifice that liberates believers from sin and death.
Lamb of God
In fact, John’s whole Gospel can be seen as an arc that begins with Jesus’ first appearance at the Jordan and finishes at his death on the Cross.
Let’s recall how John the Baptist, at the very start of the Gospel, points to Jesus and, on two consecutive days, declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.
This idea continues throughout John’s Gospel, and even after Jesus’ death: Pilate is asked to break the legs of Jesus and the prisoners so that their execution would be completed more quickly.
John recounts how Jesus was already dead and so his legs don’t need broken; but significantly he sees in this another sign.
In Exodus, there is a famous instruction that the lamb used for the Passover must not have its bones broken; and John quotes this injunction at Jesus’ death, saying, “For [this sign] took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not one bone of his will be broken’” (Jn 19:36). John sees here a further clue to the identity of Jesus.
Jesus becomes God’s lamb, the unblemished sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
From the very beginning, all the way through his own actions at the last Supper, his Passover, and his awareness of his coming sacrifice at the same time as the lambs of sacrifice, through to John’s own insight of Jesus dying on the Cross along with the sacrificial lambs, Jesus becomes God’s lamb, the unblemished sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
As we all know, this little phrase of John the Baptist has also made its way into the Mass. And today, when there is no Mass, the priest still lifts up the host and declares, “Behold the Lamb, behold him who takes away the sin of the world.”
We who have witnessed these events again today are blessed, because we are called not only to witness them, but to share in them through Communion with the Lord, above all in the Eucharist.
We are called to faith in Christ crucified; we are called to a share in Christ’s sacrifice; and we are called to a share in the delivery from sin and death that was won for all of us, by the true Lamb, the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the Cross for us today.
To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
All images Benedicta Lin.