March 25, 2005 Homily: Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18: 1-19:42
Tonight we observe the second movement of the Triduum, Good Friday of the Lordâs passion. Each year the church expresses the culmination of Godâs saving work as we enter into the events commemorated within the Holy week liturgy. Through the course of this week our liturgy draws us into the Pascal Mystery, and invites us to immerse ourselves more deeply in the events that we participate in at every Massâ¦ the events that mark us as Catholics and set us apart in the world.
I remember a few months ago I was baptizing a youngster on a Saturday morningâ¦ There was a young boy there who was probably in third or forth grade. He was a protestant cousin of the child being baptized. He got my attention afterward, and along with his dad, was asking me why we have Jesus on the cross in our churchâ¦ They just have a wooden cross in their church, Jesus isnât on it. And he looked at all the Stations of the Cross on the wall, and asked why they were there. I explained to him that we show Jesus on the cross because we want to remember what he did for us. The cross, apart from Jesus, would have no meaning. Just as the story of Jesus, without the cross, would be incomplete. I showed him each station, and shared that they told the story from the bible about what Jesus went through for us, so we could remember to always thank him.
Tonight, all over the world, the words of Johnâs Gospel will be proclaimed as we commemorate the events that led Jesus to his death. The events expressed by those stations on the wall. No mass will be celebrated between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil. The whole world pauses to ponder the events of that fateful confrontation between Jesus, the Romans, and the Jewish leadership; and to contemplate their significance in the lives of each of us.
John wrote his account within the context of his communityâs own experience of the Romans and the Jewish leadership. By the time the last Gospel is written, it is late in the first century. The Romans have crushed the Jewish revolt and destroyed the temple some twenty to thirty years earlier. Increasingly, Jewish Christians find themselves banned from Synagogues across the region and must find new ways to express and live their faith. Roman persecution has martyred many of the early leaders in the church. Johnâs Gospel expresses much of the turmoil they have experienced through its vivid contrasting images: Light and Darkness, Guilt and Innocence, Truth and Deceit, True Power and the pretense of Power.
Tonightâs Gospel captures that tension in the vivid scene of Jesus being brought out of the praetorium with a crown of thorns and a purple robe after being beaten and abused by the Romans. Pilate faces the Jewish leaders and says, âBehold the man!ââ¦ Behold what Roman power can do to this âKingâ that worried you so. And they answer back, âCrucify him!ââ¦ Pilate and the Jewish leadership clash in a battle of wills over who has ultimate power over the fate of Israelâs future.
It is an apocalyptic scene, with all those contrasting images present in stark contrast to each other. Like a shadow that reveals the truth on the wall behind the scene in front of you, John shows the Romans and the Jewish leadership on trial in the heavenly courts before Jesus. Guilt and innocence, truth and deceit, real power and feigned powerâ¦ Each will be judged by their own words, their own choices.
Johnâs message to his community is clear: you must choose what side you are on. Jesus Christ is the revelation of Truth by his life, words, and actions. The Jewish leaders rejected him. The Romans rejected him. Even some of the disciples rejected him. Yet, Jesus never falters. God has declared his verdict; now we must declare ours.
In our day, we donât have to worry about being expelled from the synagogue, or being killed by the Romans; but suffering has not gone away. We live in a world just as uncertain and fraught with pain as John did; and Jesus still never falters. He is faithful. He remains undeterred from the people he came to save.
When your heart is broken by the divorce you swore would never happen, he is there with you. When you get the results from your medical tests and you have cancer, he is there for you. When you are thrown out by your parents, and stand there abandoned and pregnant, he is there for you. When you stare helplessly at the bottle that has taken control of your life, he is there for you.
Jesus never faltered. He stood there, beaten and humiliated before Pilate and the Jews, and he never faltered. He was faithful to those he came to save, not because they deserved it, or never failed him; but because he loved them, and he loves us, each one of us, with a love that cannot be conquered. Even in his death, when the lance pierced his side, he blessed us with the sacramental signs of blood and water. Eucharist and Baptism. And he blesses us stillâ¦ As his church proclaims his faithfulness, and his Sacramental Love flows through her to nourish all who choose to receive it.
There are times in our lives when circumstances dictate that we must choose what truth means; when we must decide the verdict through all the competing pressure around us. How will we choose?
There is a poster in one of our religious Ed classrooms that sums it up for me:
Jesus chose to die for me, So I choose to live for him.