Given at Westminster Cathedral on Good Friday, 3 April, 2015.
Just a few days at a Requiem Mass for Richard III, I was privileged to wear a vestment that was 600 years old. It was beautiful. It was a work of devotion and love for Our Lord by people many hundreds of years ago who had in their hearts the same love and devotion that we do today.
On the back of the vestment, in an exquisite tapestry, is the scene that is before our eyes today; Jesus dying on the Cross to take away our sins. Beneath the Cross of Jesus on the vestment is a Roman soldier holding his lance having just pierced the side of Jesus from which, as we have just heard, flowed water and blood. The choice to put on this vestment 600 years ago the figure of the centurion was made because of a strong legend that this soldier, called Longinus, who pierced the side of Our Lord’s body, was touched by some of the blood and water that fell from His side; it splashed on him as you might expect it would. But it transformed him. He became a man of peace, a follower of Jesus and maybe it was he who said “Truly, this man is is the Son of God”. He came to see in Jesus the One who gives life in mercy, in forgiveness, in truth and in love.
This afternoon we will see Jesus lifted up before us. We will see him raised on the Cross before our eyes. And then we shall remember that He was lifted up in his Resurrection from the dead. And a little later we will remember that He is lifting up in His Ascension to Heaven, in His return to the Father. Each of these liftings up of the Lord shows us our way, our pathway.
The first, the lifting of Jesus on the Cross shows us our way through sorrow and pain and disappointment and even how to approach our death. The lifting up of Him in the Resurrection is the source of our hope, for we know that death is not the last sign but it is transformed into a fuller life beyond. And the lifting up of Him in his Ascension is the promise made to us of our final fulfilment when all that God has made will be brought into His presence, to live the divine “yes”, the divine life for eternity.
This afternoon as we approach the Cross of the Lord, let’s do so in the footsteps of Longinus. Because we too open the wounds on Our Lord’s Body; we too do that through our waywardness, through the ways in which we fail to live as His heart wants us to live and so we approach the Cross in sorrow, knowing that it is our sins He bears. But we approach the Cross too knowing that the very wounds that we open become for us the source of our forgiveness, of God’s mercy. And so we come to be touched His blood, that we may respond with love in our lives and serve Him, Our Lord and Master.