Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Didn't You Stop Us?

Homily for Good Friday, 2013

Today we turn to Christ who hangs before us on a tree, suffering.  In marking this moment this past Sunday during the Way of the Cross procession and then again this afternoon when the 8th graders from our school presented the Stations of the Cross, I noticed that none of us wanted to look when Jesus was raised up on the cross – we all wanted to avert our eyes from the scene.  It is so vulgar, so heinous, so degrading – to strip a man bare and nail him up before the crowd, using his suffering to create a spectacle, his pain to entertain the mob.  A calculated scene made to capture the morbid curiosity of those who walk by: "Look at the blood, how he is shaking, look how he is crying out.  Will this break him?  Will he renounce his Father in Heaven?  Will he curse his persecutors?  Will he show that when faced with suffering and pain he can love no better than the rest of us?"  The crowd watches to see him flinch, to see Christ betray the slightest hesitancy, watching to see if anyone can really love deeply in the face of death.  "He talked about loving enemies – well, will he really do it?"

Christ on the cross is Christ in the crucible, Christ put to the test, God on trial.  And the whole world watches, the whole world waits.

And then Christ dies.

And today we realize what just happened.  We just killed God.  It was possible - he let us do it.  We hoped that he would stop us, we hoped that he would put an end to our hatred, that he would keep us from driving in the nails, that he would stop our tongues from hurling insults.  That he would save us from ourselves, from our sinfulness, from our cowardice and rivalries.  But he didn’t.  He offered no resistance to the evil that infects us, he let us have it.  Like a lamb – he just let himself be tormented and killed.  He just let himself be run over by evil, cast aside like refuse.

He could have come down from the cross, he could have stopped us at any time, yet he did not.  Instead, upon the cross, Christ allowed himself to fall beneath the horrible specter of evil and sinfulness.  “Why Lord?,” we ask.  “Why do you not stop this?  Why do you allow evil to continue on?  Why do you allow us to persist in our sins, to be so hateful of others?  Why do you allow us to do what even we know we do not want to do?  You let us muddle through life, making mediocre attempts at holiness, neglecting the things that are most important, compromising our principles, entertaining juvenile infatuations, mistreating those we care for, turning a blind eye to the needs of others.  Why don’t you stop us?  Why do you submit to this, why do you tolerate it, allow your life to be snuffed out from our midst, allow us to forget you, mistreat you, malign you?  Why don’t you reach down from the cross and save us from ourselves, from our forsaken paths?  Don’t you want us to be good?  Come down from the cross and save us!”

Today looks like defeat.  Sin persists in our world.  Evil is everywhere around us.  People are constantly suffering and dying.  And now our Savior is dead.  A soldier pierces his side to verify and blood and water flow out.

“Beloved,” St. John Chrysostom’s voice comes through to us from centuries past, “Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought.  It has a hidden meaning.  It was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam.  As God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death.”  The Church is born in this blood and water, in Baptism and the Eucharist we are given the greatest treasures ever bestowed on the human race.

Christ offers no resistance to the spear – he allows it to pierce his side.  And this is because resisting hatred does not create love.  Preventing vice does not instill virtue.  Squelching pride does not produce humility.  Silencing scorn does not induce praise.  And avoiding death does not give birth to eternal life.

Love, virtue, humility, praise, and eternal life – these are all gifts, not negations.  And they are given to us from the cross – they are given to us by Christ who allows us to kill him so that we can be born through the gifts of blood and water, of Baptism and Eucharist, that flow from his side.  From the cross Christ does not prevent us from doing evil, he inspires and equips us to seek holiness.  He does not force salvation, he offers it to us.  And what an offering, made at the price of his blood, an offering of blood mixed with water poured from his pierced side.  Christ freely chooses to give his life for us on the cross so that we can freely choose to give our lives to him .  He chooses love even to the point of death so that we can choose love that points the way to eternal life.

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