Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

On this day that we dare to call Good, the Church gives us readings from Isaiah, the letter to the Hebrews, and John's Gospel on which to meditate. Here is the homily I gave at St. Joan of Arc, though I worry that any words I might say only cheapen the profound mystery of this day.

We waited. We hoped. We believed that our king, our savior was coming to save us. And now our king is seated on his throne, he is saving us, but it is not what we had in mind. This is not what we thought it would look like. Like Peter in the Garden, we might want to take up arms and defend this Jesus whom we love so much. We can’t stand to see him get arrested, mocked, beaten, and killed. We want to stop this. But just as he does with Peter, Jesus tells us that this has to happen. Because Jesus loves his Father and is obedient to his Father, this has to happen.
We love the Jesus who went about Galilee healing people and doing good. We love the Jesus who could feed thousands and then still have energy left to debate the Pharisees. But this Jesus, this man who lets himself get so abused by the powers of the world, we struggle with, because he may be calling us to the same thing. But he never calls us to suffer alone. This Jesus, this God-man who dies for us, is the ultimate answer for suffering and pain in the world, because he suffers all of our pains with us. When we try to deal with the question of how God allows suffering, the cross provides the answer. He doesn’t give us sufferings and trials while remaining immune to them himself. No, God himself has entered into the deepest suffering of humanity,and now he shares all of our sufferings with us. Whenever you’re going through a difficult time, people often say, “I know how you feel,” while in fact they have no idea how you feel. Jesus knows how you feel. On the cross, he felt the pain of every sin, every injustice, every hardship and trial that this life can conjure up.
And so, we have to let him do this thing for us, to let him die for us, because we never imagined that his victory could be just as big as it is. We had envisioned a kingdom where our enemies would finally be conquered, but we never thought that he could conquer death. Death was that ultimate reality, that ultimate end that we thought no one could touch. But Jesus can. His ultimate act of obedience to the Father is his ultimate act of love to us. Finally, we are reunited with our creator. Jesus has entered death in order to conquer death. The salvation he won for us is bigger and greater than we had ever dreamed of hoping for.
Picture the anger of that day; picture yourself in the midst of that ugly day. Put yourself at Pilate’s court; picture yourself among the crowds that are calling for his death. See Jesus up there, bloody and wearing a crown of thorns, his kingship mocked and derided.  How do you feel? Picture yourself at the cross; the crowds continue to mock him as he hangs their dying. His mother is brave enough to be there, her love won’t allow her to stay away. A few other women are there, but only one disciple. The rest are hiding, they’re scared of this cross that Jesus seems to have brought upon himself. But in this sea of ugliness and hatred, Jesus shines most brightly. The light of Christ’s love is hidden behind blood and tears, but for those of us with the eyes of faith, his light is shining brighter than ever before as he hangs upon the cross. It’s shining so brightly because he has freely chosen to embrace the Father’s plan to save us.
It is interesting to look at this particular version of Christ’s passion and death. In this, John’s portrayal, Jesus at first glance appears helpless as he is arrested and scourged. But if we look again, we see that Jesus is actually in control of the whole situation. He is actually the one who sets these wheels in motion. If we pay attention to the little details, we see that when Judas and the soldiers enter the garden, Jesus approaches them. He approaches them and says “Whom are you looking for?” He commands that they arrest just him and let his disciples go, and he stops Peter from his violent reaction. And during his trial before the high priest and before Pilate, he either answers or remains silent as suits his own purpose, he wont be pushed around by these powers of the world. Then on the cross, at the height of his pain, he still cares for others, entrusting John and his mother to each other, and in that act giving us Mary as our mother and protector for all time.
When we see how Jesus actually controls all the cards and calls all the shots throughout this story, we can see how it’s alright to let Jesus die. This too is part of his plan. So today, don’t let this be an average Friday, let this be a somber day. The time to celebrate the Resurrection will come, but this is the time to mourn his death, the death which we caused withour sins, but the death which frees us from our sins. While this day is somber and sad, there is a deep peace that pervades this whole day, because we know that the story is not over.
Remember back to the start of this service, we didn’t start the way we normally start all of our liturgies: with the Sign of the Cross. And at the end, we won’t have the normal ending, where the deacon says, “Go in peace.” That is because we are actually celebrating one continuous liturgy that began with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper yesterday evening, and won’t end until the end of the Easter Vigil tomorrow night. The sadness of this day is not the end of the story. So we can rest in the sadness, the peace, and the quiet of this day, because we know it is not the end. Follow Jesus bravely to the cross, and rest in the peace that the cross is not the end.

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