Here is Archbishop Leo Cushley's homily from Celebration of the Lord's Passion at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, Good Friday, 29 March 2024.

My dear friends,

As we always do on Good Friday, we listen to St John’s account of the Lord’s Passion.

Of the four Gospels, John’s is the only personal, eye-witness account.

Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account stand a step removed from what they relate, for example, telling us second-hand of Peter’s account of events, but not their own.

Of the four Gospels, then, only John is able to tell us what he has seen.

He also has a clear purpose in mind.

This is not merely memoir of something long ago, recorded by him as an old man at the end of his life. He does so with a reason, and he tells us what this is.

In fact, he tells us his purpose, right at the moment that Jesus dies on the cross and taken down from it.

John believes that Jesus is the Son of God; that he came into the world to die like this to save us; and that he rose from the dead three days later.

He believes in Jesus.

He tell us that he leaves us this account as “the evidence of one who saw it, trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth”.

He believes. And he writes it all down here, “so that you may believe as well”.

John is our first-hand witness to what has just happened.

He is standing there, watching Jesus die.

Jesus’s mother is there, some of the other women are there, but John is the only man to be brave enough to remain, and it is he who records all this for us.

He is our eyes and ears.

We know John is a close friend of Jesus.

John wasn’t the leader of the twelve – that was always Peter, nicknamed Cephas, the Rock, from the very start – but John has a special place, and it’s right beside Jesus.

We know he is close to him, in affection, morally, and spiritually.

We can be fully confident that John will tell us everything he can recall of his friend’s love, of his suffering, of his every word and gesture.

He sees Jesus through the affectionate eyes of a brother, a true friend, a son, a disciple.

And of all the disciples, John brings something else to the story of Good Friday. He is someone who has access: he is known to the high priest and the priestly families.

John is known among them to be a disciple of Jesus; and so it is he who gets Peter into the high priest’s house, where the first part of Jesus’ trial takes place.

Peter wants to follow Jesus, but he does so discreetly, while John is not afraid.

Strangely, because John gets Peter into the High Priest’s house, Peter’s connection to John makes a serving girl ask him if he is “another of that man’s disciples”.

We usually take this to be a suspicious question, but it could just as easily have been a simple question, as Peter was clearly there because of John, and John does not appear to be afraid to be there at all.

So, it turns out that John was a known disciple of Jesus, and never denies it; but when Peter is asked, he denies it three times and runs away.

We are used to noticing Peter, but if we flip it round, we notice John, who stays; it’s John that follows the Lord where he goes; and on this occasion that path takes Jesus to the Cross. And John goes there too.

So, while Peter and the others flee, John is left there with Jesus, at the end.

This is the action of a very brave man, of a completely loyal friend, of a disciple, of a believer. John even accompanies Our Lady and takes care of her in this most terrible moment.

Here is a human drama as well as a cosmic one. And yet John stays on, in spite of the torture and death of his friend and Master, and the obvious risk to himself.

But back to a small point I made at the start.

In St John, at the death of Jesus, we are at one of the rarest of moments in the Gospels. What I mean is this. John is our first-hand witness to what has just happened. He tells us what he has seen.

And then, he looks directly at us. He involves you and me in the story.

Not only was John there, he addresses us directly, personally. He starts, “All this is the evidence of one who saw it, trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth”. And then he turns to you and me, and adds that he gives this evidence, “so that you may believe as well”.

The evangelist looks up from writing and remembering Jesus in his very agony on the Cross.

And he turns and says to you, I’ve written all this and been through all this, and lived the rest of my life as Jesus’s faithful disciple and friend.

I was there and I’ve written all this here – so that you may believe as well.

On Calvary, he turns from Christ on the Cross, and he looks at you and me, and he says, This unique event fulfils God’s wonderful plan. I believe it - and write it down for you, so that you may believe as well.

Through his own loyalty and love, through his faith and personal witness, John makes us witness of Jesus’s death.

Let’s imitate John’s loyalty and love for his dying friend and Master.

Like John, let’s believe and trust again in God’s great plan for us, even as Jesus is taken down from the Cross and is placed in the Tomb.

Archbishop Cushley will preside at the Easter Vigil at 7:00pm on Saturday and at the Easter Sunday Mass at midday, both at St Mary's Cathedral.