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Good Friday Homily

By: Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22:22-30 Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 John 19:1-42

O most afflicted–I crucified thee. God interceded–for my salvation–not my deserving.  Amen.

We began today with the stations of the cross, as I did in Jerusalem just over a year ago with my brother on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.  We have out on a table a crown of thorns, a die for the soldiers’ gambling toss and some coins, a sponge ready for sour wine, a whip of cords, and iron nails; all objects evocative of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion.  We look to the wood of the cross which has become the symbol of our faith.  We like to have objects, things that our senses can apprehend, things we can see and feel, hear and touch, taste and smell.  We like souvenirs of journeys taken, and of significant events in our lives; they keep the events fresh and alive in our memories. Later today we’ll recall the seven last words of Christ from the cross taken from gospel accounts. All these objects are good to help us come to know God’s love for us, but according to Ham Sok Hon, a Korean called by many ‘the Gandhi of Korea,’ “the Cross is not for us simply to adore and behold from a distance, rather we must strive to bear the Cross in our bodies.” By this I take it to mean as Paul said to the Galatians (2:19-10) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In the foolish wisdom of God, we bear Christ crucified in our bodies because it is not we who live, but Christ. As Teresa of Avila put it, “Christ has no body now but yours.”

As I walked the way of the cross in Jerusalem last year, instead of Roman soldiers, I saw Israeli soldiers with their automatic weapons stopping people and demanding their papers. The streets were crowded, not just with pilgrims, but with people of the city, merchants and shoppers, school children, people of many nations, languages, religions and cultures.  We began the first 2 stations at a Franciscan Monastery.  There were several large wooden crosses leaning up against a wall as some pilgrim groups choose to share in the carrying of a cross through the streets as they went from station to station.  Groups stopped at each station to read from the scriptures, recite some prayers and sing a hymn before moving on to the next.  Sometimes people stopped along the way to touch a particular stone or place on the wall where it was believed that Jesus had stopped and reached out his hand to steady himself against the wall. Some of these sites have been venerated for nearly 2K years.  We have the pilgrims’ journal of Egeria which outlines many of the services and gatherings throughout Holy Week from around the year 380 CE.  There is good provenance for many of the holy sites in spite of the passage of time. The walk ends at and within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Our guide brought out a map showing how the Church had been divided in jurisdiction between 6 churches: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian.  There are some common areas in the Church, including the altar at which pilgrims bend down to kiss the rock of Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, beneath an altar. I saw the famous immovable ladder perched high up on a ledge under a window of the church.  It has been in place since 1728 and has remained ever since because it is subject to the Status Quo agreement instituted by the Ottoman Sultan in 1757. No one person of the six ecumenical Christian churches of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may make a change or alter anything without the consent of the other five.  The ladder stays where it is because they cannot agree to move things, not even the ladder. We must continue to pray for Christian unity.

Shortly we will sing the hymn, “Ah holy Jesus, how hast thou offended?” (Common Praise, #196), one of Bach’s chorales. The meter of the hymn, 11 11 11 5, sets off the last line of each verse, so it reads almost haiku-like in its brevity.  They are the words which I used as a prayer to begin this homily.

O most afflicted
I crucified thee.
God interceded.
For my salvation.
Not my deserving.

I like the simpleness and poetry of these words.  They are words I can pray, addressing Jesus as the most afflicted one, or as the suffering servant described in the Isaiah passage. We just read through the passion of Christ and said with the crowds, “Away with him, away with him. Crucify him! Crucify him!”  We are complicit and can not hold ourselves apart from the rest of humanity in these words. We own a part in the crucifixion of our Saviour because we have truly said those words.  The shadow of the cross falls on us and marks our hearts because we were there standing beneath the cross. And yet, God continues to intercede for us, by making it always possible “to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever I fall into sin, to repent and return to Christ,” one of the promises from the baptismal covenant we’ll renew once more at Easter.  And it is totally the grace of God, the love of Christ unswerving as it says in the hymn, not my deserving; not by any merit, not by birthright or heritage, not by any right or privilege or anything of my doing, but purely of God’s great love that never ends. 

While Julian of Norwich saw in her vision a crucifix, her revelation was that God’s meaning in Jesus’ death on the cross was love. It took her years to unpack that revelation.  It took John, who stood at the foot of the cross, years to get to the point when he could write, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” (John 3:16). Christ’s exaltation by being lifted up on the cross is another of the truly dramatic actions and statements that we’ve been seeing this week, showing the depth of God’s love for us. At the Maundy Thursday service we heard Jesus’ new commandment given to the disciples after he’d washed their feet and ate bread and drank wine with them. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  We pattern our lives on the life and death of Christ Jesus for as says in Timothy (2:11) “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” The Cross of Christ has marked our hearts, now let the same Christ inform all our words and actions. Along with those objects we associate with Christ’s crucifixion, let’s put a newspaper down, and the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Millennium Development Goals still unachieved; all these are calls to action for us to always work towards the love, justice, mercy and peace of Christ for all.

O most afflicted
I crucified thee.
God interceded.
for my salvation.
not my deserving.  Amen.

*Ham Sok Hon, as quoted in Michael L. Birkel’s Silence and Witness, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, page 129

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