Encountering the Lord in the Garden of Olives, accompanying him before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, and standing before the Cross is more than a reenactment of history. It’s not a you-are-there moment. That is why the attraction to the gruesome is misplaced, I think. Instead, perhaps we might consider ourselves witnesses to the love of the Father and Son, and invited into the grace of that relationship.
Christ, as the man who suffers really and in a terrible way in the Garden of Olives and on Calvary, addresses Himself to the Father- that Father whose love He has preached to people, to whose mercy He has borne witness through all of His activity. But He is not spared – not even He-the terrible suffering of death on the cross: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin,”(2 Cor 5:21) St. Paul will write, summing up in a few words the whole depth of the cross and at the same time the divine dimension of the reality of the Redemption.
We are reminded of this each Ash Wednesday. And it leads us to a deeper understanding of God. Mercy gives us a glimpse into the mind of God. Let’s attend to how justice and love fit into this seeing:
Indeed this Redemption is the ultimate and definitive revelation of the holiness of God, who is the absolute fullness of perfection: fullness of justice and of love, since justice is based on love, flows from it and tends towards it. In the passion and death of Christ-in the fact that the Father did not spare His own Son, but “for our sake made him sin”(Ibidem)- absolute justice is expressed, for Christ undergoes the passion and cross because of the sins of humanity. This constitutes even a “superabundance” of justice, for the sins of (people) are “compensated for” by the sacrifice of the Man-God.
What do you make of this superabundance? Justice that transcends sin to the point that love overwhelms.
Nevertheless, this justice, which is properly justice “to God’s measure,” springs completely from love: from the love of the Father and of the Son, and completely bears fruit in love. Precisely for this reason the divine justice revealed in the cross of Christ is “to God’s measure,” because it springs from love and is accomplished in love, producing fruits of salvation. The divine dimension of redemption is put into effect not only by bringing justice to bear upon sin, but also by restoring to love that creative power in (people) thanks also which (we) once more (have) access to the fullness of life and holiness that come from God. In this way, redemption involves the revelation of mercy in its fullness.
This would seem to suggest that mercy is not a one-time event on Calvary, but something that draws us into this certain “fullness of life” as a new way of life. The alternative is that Good Friday remains comfortably distant, that the Paschal Mystery has little impact in our lives beyond piety, a history lesson, or an image to behold.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana