Good Friday 2023

Once again, we got through the difficult exercise of recalling, step by step, the details of Jesus’ final hours of life. Oh, why must we keep revisiting this unpleasant story year after year? As it is, this Friday is, frankly, only “good” in a sense of “holy/dedicated” and at all not “pleasant/beneficial”! The worst part is that what happened to Jesus wasn’t unique to him or even to the olden days. Don’t we have enough hair-raising reports of what goes on in our world on which to dwell, and be sad?

Well the first reason we keep doing this is that it helped us draw the parallels between the ways in which Jesus was hurt – unnecessarily, unfairly, tragically – and the impulses that we may choose to ignore in ourselves. We all contribute in big and small ways to whatever is going wrong in the world. Was Jesus’ death necessary? Did God respond to evil with violence, even as Jesus said “love your enemies”? I personally think that God did not send Jesus to suffer and die, but to demonstrate with his life the potential for the new existence to which we could not only aspire, but actually attain through walking with God, and striving for that mystical union of human and divine that we see in Jesus. However, this kind of life is offensive to evil. We notice that our own attempts to do what is right so often make our own lives worse. And so Jesus was killed – by people, not by God – as so many others suffer and die to this day, and so many good intentions are squashed by reality. Who is to blame? If it isn’t God, maybe the Roman soldiers? But they were commanded by Pilate, pressured by the Jewish elite, fearing the fickleness of the mob… at which point did this all begin to go seriously wrong? There is no easy answer, as there isn’t a way to construct the hierarchy of our sins – there’s only the hope that by bringing Jesus back to life, God showed that in him/her, there is no room for evil and death.

And the second reason is that when we choose not to avert our eyes from the suffering of Jesus, we practice compassion; thereby, we become more like him. For everything he did was out of compassion, not the least of which was to live and suffer as we do. True love always involves sacrifices. We give up things for our loved ones, we see others giving up things for us, and we know that even fairy tales and Disney movies only end well if they involve self-sacrifice. How encouraging it is then, that God so wanted a real relationship with us, that he sacrificed his power, freedom, health, and life to be with us here, so that we may be with him forever in heaven. So let’s continue to pay attention to the moments when we and others act compassionately and sacrificially, and become reassured of our own special “powers” not unlike those that Elsa, Anna, Moana and Beauty possessed – the gifts of God that make us not only truly human, but even a bit divine. Self-giving, courage, love; faith, hope, perseverance.

And precisely because we are aware of our special powers, even as we dedicate this day to accompany Jesus in his suffering, we already know that when he said “it is finished”, he did not mean “it is lost”. We know this better than Mary and John, the Centurion, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and a whole bunch of women, all of whom chose not to turn away from Jesus in life or in death. So, as we go home, let’s begin to marvel at how the ending of this story makes a new beginning for us. But do not go too fast; let us not rush into the mystery of the empty tomb just yet.

Let’s not turn away too quickly from the pain and self-giving of our Lord, just as we must not abandon those who face suffering today, as difficult as it is to stay; for what else but our compassion will get them through the day? At the same time, let’s also reflect on some of our own experiences, when we thought that all was lost, only to discover that it was a gateway to something new and healthier (remember how Casita fell apart in “Encanto”?) Let’s also think back to our liturgy: was there a station of the Cross that particularly saddened you, moved, or even convicted you? On the other hand, what are some of the crosses we must bear – whom are we still trying to forgive? Consider staying with these thoughts between now and Easter; not out of gloomy self-absorption, but out of gratitude for the permission to forgive yourself and others, just as God forgives and heals us. Finally, let us also consider what further changes and amends we might make to copy Jesus’ self-sacrificial attitude more often, and notice how God gives us the strength to do so. Perhaps, this will help us find this year’s Easter particularly personally significant, helping us to grow further in Christ. Amen.

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