HOMILY GOOD FRIDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
A DARK DAY IN HUMAN HISTORY BUT A BRIGHT ONE IN SALVATION HISTORY!
Jn 18.1-19.42 Is 52.13-53.12 Heb 4.14-16, 5.7-9
Rhyme Bible: “The Day Jesus Died” (Jn 18,19)
Salvador Dali’s depictions of these events in a phase of fervent Catholicism:
“From the Sacrament of the Last Supper” (1955) to “Christ of St John of the Cross” (1951)
The death of Jesus has been something we have all grown up with, as taken for granted as part of our faith, but when you think about it, it presents a horrific scene to an innocent child. I remember a mother concerned about her 7 year old son being so distressed by the image of Jesus on the Cross in church, that she wanted me to reassure him that all was well. When we think about it, it’s not so easy to explain, except in terms of life not being fair, and we humans being capricious when things don’t go our way, and being inclined to take it out on others and blame them for our problems, even when there is no justification for this. It’s a strange world we’re in, wonderful as it may be, when everything is going our way.
The Good Friday story is not a fantasy, or just ancient history, but a sobering reminder of the fact that in our faith, Jesus was indeed the Suffering Servant, who shows us the way to face up to life’s injustices and unpredictability, as we do our best to accept the reality of uncertainty, unfairness and pain in our own lives.
The dark side of human nature has always puzzled me, in a wonderful and beautiful world, where we are well aware of its fragility, and our own, as we tread our way carefully through life, wanting the best for ourselves and our children and our children’s children, perhaps even moreso, as we realize our responsibility to try and make this world a better place, and to preserve and protect it.
Yet we don’t need to look far to see the problems, throughout human history, where fear, misunderstanding, jealousy and mistrust have led to hatred and conflict, such that there has rarely been a time when there hasn’t been a war of some sort somewhere, and often enough the victors have written the history in glorious terms, rather than accepting that war is hell, and that our purpose is to work for peace and harmony for the good and betterment of all, particularly for future generations.
Today, the headline just popped up on my laptop “Israel launches airstrikes in Gaza, hours after dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon”, as I was preparing these thoughts! Where and when will it end, we might ask!
Suffering and death are part and parcel of the human condition and experience, so we have to accept that, but as I often say, the crosses of life are real enough, without us having to seek additional burdens in life beyond that. We are not Christian masochists, and have a right to seek happiness and fulfilment in our own lives, but obviously not at the cost of others.
The crosses of life are difficult to bear. Human weakness, physical and mental disability, serious and terminal illness, the challenges of ageing and facing our mortality can make life seem so unfair, but here we are, facing the realities and reflecting on how to best do that. It doesn’t come from turning in on ourselves. As we know, we don’t have to go looking for crosses, but we do find purpose and meaning in going beyond ourselves, as modelled by Jesus in his life and ministry, in word and deed.
As for Pilate’s classic throwaway line: “What is truth?”, it’s a good one to ask now, in this age of fake truth, where some think truth is whatever they want it to mean. Certainly, Pilate’s cynicism goes on, where opportunism and evasion of responsibility are seen as good strategies to follow, to get away with what we can, and to get out of any personal criticism or difficulties. We need to be people who value and work for truth and justice, in the face of a world where these values are not seen as important.
Darkness covers the earth, as the good man dies, with the injustice of the whole scene very clear, but inexplicable, except in terms of human treachery due to jealousy and weakness. Jesus is a stand alone as the one who shows the way to fullness of humanity in living the good and fruitful life, concerned about others and committed to truth and a fair go for all.
Yet, ironically, it is the religious authorities who are out to get him, and do so in the end, but only after he has achieved his goal in proclaiming the kingdom of God in terms they totally fail to comprehend. He has demonstrated the goodness of just accepting people as they are, and challenging them to change their ways, if off the track. There’s no self-righteousness here, but only reassurance of forgiveness and healing for those who are open to his message. All are given a chance, with no fear nor favour of position or background or prior behaviour.
John’s Gospel is clear in emphasising Jesus is the just and good man who is in control of his fate, until he believes he has achieved his mission in proclaiming a message of Good News to all whom he encounters, until Judas betrays him, but all in good time, as he farewells his followers in a lengthy discourse where he challenges them to continue his ministry and to proclaim his ongoing presence, despite what is to befall him, as he moves into the darkness and death.
Ultimately, the paradox is that the crucified Jesus, in John’s Gospel in particular, draws all to himself, looking beyond the gruesome tragedy of the Cross, to the peace and joy of life to come, as we look forward to Easter.
In the end of today’s account, we have the faithful disciples at the foot of the Cross in Jesus’ mother Mary, and John, the one Jesus loved, then accompanied by Nicodemus the searcher for truth, finally coming to faith and into the light, along with Joseph of Arimathea, to conclude with Jesus’ burial, but that’s not the end of the story, which is why we are gathered here, awaiting Easter celebrations, but on a sombre note right now.
john hannon 7th April 2023