Homily for Good Friday, 2014
Today, as we contemplate the passion and death of Christ, we must face a truly horrifying scene. Recent movies have dragged our imaginations down the streets of Jerusalem, following in Christ’s bloody footsteps, shuddering at the pain he endured, wanting to turn away as we watched him tormented by his executioners. Who could do this to someone, we might ask? How can people be so brutal? And I think we can, subconsciously place ourselves as spectators in the scene – onlookers. We haven’t crucified Christ, we have not beaten him, we have not spit on him or mocked him, or nailed his hands and feet to a tree.
And it is true. We haven’t. We are his disciples – we are like those who followed him throughout his ministry and were instructed by him and fed by him in the upper room - and that is why today is especially painful for us.
Christ surely knew the Roman soldiers for what they were – thugs and brutes. He knew that to them he meant nothing – that he was just one more crucifixion in a vicious world. The pain that they inflicted upon him was ruthless, to be sure – but he knew that they were doing what they were trained to do – to be brutal.
It was when he looked out at the crowd, as he looked up and searched their faces, that the most cruel and agonizing pain enveloped him. The 72 disciples with whom he had labored for months and years – teaching them the mysteries of the kingdom, multiplying loaves and fish to feed them were not to be found in that crowd - they were gone. He was scorned like a leper by the lepers he had cured. Cast aside by those from whom he had cast demons. Overlooked by those to whom he had restored sight.
And the twelve… The twelve who he had called by name, who had followed him all over the countryside, who had shared in his joys and sorrows, who had seen him walk on water, transfigured before them, who had watched him raise Lazarus, to whom he had revealed the mysteries of the kingdom, promising that he would never abandon them, that he would give them eternal life – and who he had warned on multiple occasions of precisely this dark day, who had sworn that they would not abandon him, that they would remain faithful. Where were they?
The only faces before him he recognized were those of his mother, of the women who could be there without danger, and of the youngest of his twelve, John, who was still such a child, a bit of a mamma’s boy. The rest had deserted him.
As we look upon this cross, brothers and sisters, do not be distracted by the blood. The most excruciating agony of the cross was not the violence inflicted by strangers, but the betrayal and denial inflicted by friends.
And of that we are most assuredly complicit. For as Christ looked out upon our world from his cross, his gaze was not limited to the crowd that gathered on Golgatha. His gaze penetrated the depths of time and space – even to now, even to here in Winthrop. He looks out upon the vast crowd of his friends, the friends that he nourishes through the sacraments, that he teaches through the scriptures, that he guides through his Spirit present in the Church. And he searches for the faces of those he loves, who he is dying to save, for our faces in the crowd.
Sometimes he finds them to be sure, but today we acknowledge how often he has not, how often we have turned away through our sins, as if we have not known him, do not know him.
Yes, it is true, that when we speak ill of others, when we are stingy, when we neglect prayer, when we objectify others, when we give vent to anger and desire revenge, when we spurn those who ask forgiveness, when we manipulate or deceive others, when we lie or steal, when we obsess over the things of this world – these actions require that we turn away from the gaze of Christ on the cross, that we act as though we were not his friends, as if we were not his followers, as if he were dead to us.
Our Lord speaks the words of Psalm 55 to us today:
If this had been done by an enemy I could bear his taunts.
If a rival had risen against me, I could hide from him.
But it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend!
How close was the friendship between us.
We walked together in harmony in the house of God.
This, brothers and sisters, is how you and I crucify our Lord. We crucify him not with whips and scourges, with nails and spears. Through our sins we crucify Christ with the weapons only a beloved friend possesses: denial, betrayal, and rejection.
And these weapons make nails and spears seem mere toys in the hands of children.
Oh wonder of your love for us, Lord. That even as we crucify you, even as we reject you, your pour out your life for us. Tonight we praise your infinite love and mercy!