New Life From the Wooden Cross

The Lord Is My Chef Good Friday Recipe, 14 April 2017
Isaiah 52:13-53:12//Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9//John 18:1-19:42
Today we celebrate something so ancient in our liturgy, the veneration of the Cross. It is the second part of our three-part celebration on this Good Friday. Notice that the tabernacle is empty as focus on this Good Friday is on the wooden cross. In the Bible, wood is always used to save. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, we always find the theme of wood that indicates salvation. In Genesis we find it in the stories about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and Noah’s ark. Then in the Book of Exodus we find wood being used in the staff of Moses and in the Ark of the Covenant where the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept. My favorite is the one in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel where an angel led him to a vision of heaven where there is a vast network of rivers wherein trees grow abundantly near the shore. In the Gospel accounts, wood is again the theme, from the manger of Jesus Christ who grew up to become a carpenter like His foster father St. Joseph, and now in His crucifixion. This explains why on this Good Friday we adore the wooden Cross.
In our first reading from Isaiah we find traces of the theme of wood wherein the Suffering Servant, the coming Christ, is described like a “sapling” and a “shoot” from parched earth who would endure all sufferings for our salvation. And in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we find a summary of the Passion of Christ proclaimed in our very long Gospel (cf. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week”, pp.162-164). Briefly, let us hear Pope Benedict’s reflection that the author of Hebrews presents to us the entire Passion and Death of the Lord in the context of prayer as our High Priest, our perfect mediator with the Father. We go back to Pope Benedict after presenting to you my co-journeyers the continuation of my reflection on this theme of wood on Good Friday.
This theme of wood is very much pronounced in our extraordinarily long Gospel today that opens with Jesus praying at Gethsemane which means “olive press” in Hebrew language. The grove is also where olives are pressed for the valuable oil so essential in the Mediterranean world since then. It is one of the most unforgettable places I have been to in the Holy Land when we went there for a pilgrimage ten years ago. Gethsemane as an olive press evokes also how Jesus was “pressed” during His agony at the garden that He perspired with blood while praying to the Father. Most interesting of all, it is said that an olive tree lives to a thousand years or even more as it goes to a series of “deaths” and “regeneration” so that growers never cut it down. Here we find the olive tree, a beautiful wood, speaking perfectly well of Christ’s Death and Resurrection! Rosary beads made of olive wood bought in the Holy Land are the best “pasalubong” because as you use it over a long period of time, the beads emit sweet aroma with some traces of oil. Imagine how such a “dead wood” still alive with aroma and oil?! And that is precisely the meaning of our adoration of the wooden Cross on this Good Friday: from the Cross comes new life to us. On the Cross Jesus becomes the source of life for us all as He conquered death through His obedience that the author of Hebrews tells us in our second reading as Pope Benedict noted in his book.
Without prolonging your suffering on this Good Friday, let me end with a simple illustration: remember how our generation grew up with the wooden “pamalo”? Of how our parents subscribed to that old saying, “spare the rod, and spoil the child”? Are we not somehow thankful we were brought with the wooden “pamalo” that today we reap its fruits that turn us into what we are today? Perhaps those from my generation can attest that through the wooden “pamalo” or rod, we learned so many values in life like hard work, patience, perseverance, sacrifice, and excellence. Please don’t get me wrong on this Good Friday. I am not advocating corporal punishment. Just come to think that just as Jesus Christ had used an ordinary wood to save us, we also have had that ordinary wood – the “pamalo” – to prepare us to a disciplined and fulfilled life, why don’t we allow the Lord to use us too to save other people’s lives? A blessed Friday to you!
Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan