My people, what have I done to you?

Good Friday

In solemn silence we have listened to St John’s account of the Passion and Death of the Lord.

Destress envelopes us as we ponder the sufferings of our Saviour. We naturally recoil from confronting human suffering especially when it is so graphically portrayed as it is in the Gospel accounts.

What we have just heard confronts us when we consider that the depth of suffering that Jesus endured done to an innocent and good man. Our spirits cry out at the level of injustice. His life was solely directed to being a means of bringing healing, hope and peace to people struggling with the burdens of life. His actions were directed towards bringing light into the darkness that enveloped their lives. His words were words of truth that inspired people and showed them the way to find true life.

The crucifixion of Jesus reveals the depths of human wickedness, from the callous and calculated bitter hatred of the Jewish authorities to the sheer cruelty of his executioners. The evil that could lay hold of a person was revealed. The depths to which human wickedness could go stands starkly before us.

Jesus knew also the experience of radical abandonment. His own disciples deserted him. He was betrayed and denied by those who were close to him. The scorn and ridicule from his own people, the very people he sought to serve, must have been another sword piercing his heart.

He was humiliated and rejected. His cry from the cross reflects the depth of his anguish of spirit: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

We are confronted with the full force of the reality of human suffering. We are confronted with the reality of evil. 

Isaiah rightly said that the crowds were appalled at seeing him, “so disfigured did he look”. Jesus was, as the prophet said, “a man of sorrows”. Our hearts are torn as we try to imagine the depth of suffering that Jesus experienced.

While we may wish to turn our faces away, we know we must look upon him. We understand why he endured all that he endured. On this most holy of days we cannot ignore what happened to Jesus and its profound meaning. We know why Jesus accepted this level of suffering and rejection.

We cannot turn our faces away.  

In a few moments we will have our own personal way of responding to what we have just read. The veiled crucifix will be solemnly processed into this assembly. The image of the crucified Christ will be revealed before us and we will be invited to come forward to venerate the cross.

During this time of veneration it is traditional that an ancient hymn be sung. It is known as “The Reproaches”, in English, or Improperia in Latin. The hymn has been in use in the Church since the ninth century and has been part of the Good Friday liturgy since the fourteenth century. Today it is sung in churches across the world, and we will hear it sung for us.

In a series of antiphons and responses there is a conversation between Christ and the people. Christ hauntingly asks again and again, “How have I offended you?”  Jesus is saying to us: what have I done to you that you have treated me so?

Let this question surely sears our soul.

Listen to some of the words of this ancient hymn:

My people, what have I done to you?

or how have I grieved you?

Answer me!

Because I led you out of the land of Egypt,

you have prepared a cross for your Saviour.

What more should I have done for you and have not done?

Indeed, I planted you as my most beautiful chosen vine

and you have turned very bitter for me,

for in my thirst you gave me vinegar to drink

and with a lance you pierced your Saviour’s side.

I exalted you with great power,

and you hung me on the scaffold of the cross.

As the Lord pleads with each of us, “what have I done to you?”, to deserve such a death, we cannot but know the reason. It is our sin.

This ancient hymn is meant to provide a fitting meditation while each of us walks up the aisle of the church to kiss the wounds of Christ on the cross. As we await our moment at the cross our soul is touched as we ponder the depths of our own sin. Thus, we come to venerate our crucified Saviour with a penitential spirit.

The words of Isaiah linger in our minds, “ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried”. We quietly ponder the words, “He was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins”.

He has, as the prophet declared, offered his life in atonement for our sins. And “though his wounds we are healed”.

Let us allow this ancient hymn based as it is in Sacred Scripture to stir our hearts as we approach our Crucified Lord to venerate the cross on this Good Friday.

My people, what have I done to you?

or how have I grieved you?

Answer me!

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Friday, 29 March 2024

Tags: Homilies