As we come to the end of Lent, we arrive at what is the saddest of days-Good Friday. On Good Friday you cannot avoid the Christian issue. At Christmas, you can dream of angels and a star, of a teenage mother and an infant asleep in the hay. On Easter Sunday, you will be glad and rejoice because God and goodness have risen from the grave. But today, there is no dreaming. Today there is nothing to rejoice. Today, you come face to face with the primary Christian symbol: that is, a cross.
So let’s briefly look at some facts. First, God died on that drab afternoon 2,000 years ago. The God of you and me died. Oh, I know death could not destroy divinity. The Trinity was not suddenly two persons, but still, it is true, God died. On Calvary’s Cross, there was only one person, and He was God, and He died. If there is one mystery harder to accept than God was born, it is the mystery that God died.
The second fact is Jesus really suffered. Don’t fictionalize Calvary. Don’t imagine that because Jesus was God, He felt pain less than we do. If anything, He suffered more intensely. He was more sensitive, more alive to everything human. The crown on His head was plated with real thorns. It was warm spit that splattered His face. A tough whip made His back flinch. Those were sharp nails that pierced His hands and feet. The blood reddening the earth of Calvary was His. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit” was really His last breath. Little wonder He called out in the garden, “Father, take this cup away from me. God, don’t let me die.”
The third fact is Jesus suffered and died for you. There are two protagonists in that passion: Jesus is one, the other is I. In the words of St. Paul, the Son of God gave Himself for me. He did not die for a misty mass called humanity. He died for Adam, that strange creature who could not abide in God’s love, for the space of one temptation. He died for Judas, as well as for John. For Mary Magdalene, as well as Mary of Nazareth. He died for both thieves who were crucified with Him, even the bandit who kept cursing Him. He died for me, as if Christ and His cross had arms only for me. He died for every sinner and every sin, from the first Eden, until His final coming.
Fourth fact: Jesus died for me because He loved me. He did not have to die. He did not die because He had no other choice. He told us, “No one takes my life from Me. I lay it down of My own free will.” St. Paul has no doubt about the reason why. He tells the Galatians, “The Son of God loved me.” It is so difficult to accept, isn’t it? That God should die for love of me.
The fifth fact is that by His death, He gave me life. I am not denying that His whole life is life-giving; I am stressing the centerpiece of the salvation drama. Without His death, we would be dead. I mean, we would be without faith, without hope, without love, and yes, without joy. But what do these facts say to us? God died a painful death for me, out of love, to give me life.
But where is our sharing in the passion of Christ? I cannot tell you. You are, each of you, a unique authority on your own Calvary. But I would ask you to ask yourself, what do you usually avoid and whom? Are you built only for comfort? Do you ever keep fast except to lose weight? What keeps you from being a saint? Who matters most in your life? If you had to confess what you want out of human living, would it have anything to do with a crucified Lord? Where does He rank in your top ten?
How do you handle illness, from a common cold to the threat of cancer? What are you afraid of? Death? Life? In whom do you see Christ? Do you only see Him in those you like and those who like you? To whom do you give bread and drink? To the hungry and thirsty? Or to the well-fed and well-oiled?
When did you last welcome a stranger? Give clothes to the naked? Who are the sick you visit? What prisons of body or mind have seen your face?
On this Good Friday, at this point in your existence, who are you like? Mary…John…Pilate…Herod…Joseph of Aremathea …Peter…The Disciples looking on from a safe distance?
The Church will survive heresy and hatred, sin and persecution. What imperils Catholicism is our lukewarmness, yours and mine. Jesus Christ does not turn us on. Justin Bieber sings, and there is a stampede to attend. The Mets lose, and the Hudson floods with weeping. But God dies on a Cross for us, and business goes on as usual. I am not asking for ceaseless emotion, wailing and weeping or balloons and guitars. Emotion peters out. I am suggesting that we all live our Christian commitment to live day after day, the dying and the rising that Holy Week symbolizes. It is not enough to represent the crucifixion of Christ liturgically, play it out once a year. The liturgy expresses ritually what goes on in the rest of our lives. The liturgical journey ritualizes the human journey. But does it? Does this afternoon’s crucifixion sacramentalize what goes on in the rest of your life? Where, my friends, is your Good Friday? Where is your Calvary?