Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

In any other year, March 25th would be the feast of the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary and Mary saying yes to God's great invitation. This year, the feast of the Annunciation has been the first available day after the Easter octave, so it'll be celebrated on April 4th. This is a rare convergence of these dates: although it happened as recently as 2005, it won't happen again until 2157. The rare convergence of these dates can be a fruitful time to meditate on the beginning and end of Christ's life, and on Mary's role in it.

At the beginning, Mary gives us Jesus when she says, "Let it be done unto me according to your word," and at the end, Jesus gives us Mary when he says, "Behold your mother." Twice we see Mary say yes to something she cannot understand: yes to the Incarnation, and yes to his death. Twice we see Jesus humble himself, first by becoming man, and then again by giving up that manhood and undergoing death. When these two dates converged back in 1608, the poet John Donne wrote a poem in which he said, "Death and conception in mankind is one:/Or ‘twas in Him the same humility."

This should help to illustrate for us that everything Christ did was about humbling himself. In becoming a man, he humbled himself. In undergoing death, he humbled himself. The whole Paschal Mystery is about Christ humbling himself in order to experience our lowly and miserable condition, in order to be exalted on Easter and take us with him.

The humility of the Passion is expressed in many ways through the silence of Good Friday. The silence of this day has always been very powerful for me. We started this service in silence. This is a prayer service, not a mass: during this time when we wait with Christ at the tomb, the normal exultation of the Church ceases, and we wait in silence. We will depart in silence, and hopefully we've found some way to make this day special through silence.

The day is silent because the sinful world couldn't endure the just man. Throughout Jesus's trial with Pilate and Caiaphas, the silence of Jesus, although it leads to his death, is really more convicting of the loud, sinful world that condemned him. Jesus, the perfectly just one, sat silent in the face of the unjust accusations. "Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." The philosopher Plato, who lived 400 years before Jesus did, once wrote about how the world would treat a perfectly just man if ever they met one. He said, "The just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, the chains, the branding iron in the eyes; and then, having endured every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified." Plato said this 400 years before Christ, because he recognized what would necessarily be the human fate of a truly just person.

But what Plato could not possibly see was the Resurrection. The silence and suffering of Jesus the just one leads to the grave, but then it leads to the Resurrection. Wait in silence with him. The Resurrection will come, but for now, just wait. Wait with Mary. Wait at the tomb. Soon a new and glorious day will dawn, but for now, we wait, we trust, in silence.

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