The homily for this year’s Good Friday service is below, and begins in the video at the 44:30 mark.
Last night, we celebrated the Last Supper and the great mandate of Jesus to his disciples to humbly serve one another. Later, in the great Priestly Prayer found in John’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to speak as plainly as his demonstration of washing feet: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Then, without the disciples fully understanding, Jesus transforms the paschal meal, giving it the fully historical significance for all eternity, and instituted the Eucharist.
Today, we recall the depths of God’s love for the world: The Father whose love is so great he does not spare his Son, but gives him to suffer for our salvation. To manifest this love, Jesus suffers and dies upon the cross, pouring out his life’s blood for the redemption of the world.
As a matter of faith, we believe the Father’s will is perfect. Thus, there is no more perfect means of God to manifest his love for us than through his Son’s death on the cross. This of course means that the cross is the perfect means of manifesting God’s love for the world. To better understand this, let us look more closely at Jesus and his cross. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:5-7 – is a good place to start: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
The humanity and divinity of Jesus are on full display on the cross. Part of Jesus’ emptying himself means he left his omnipotence and power behind as he entered the world. One might ask, if that is true, how then was he able to perform so many miracles, including raising the dead to life? The answer is because of the Divine Life that abides in him. The life and love of God are always flowing from Jesus. It is why his preaching was heard as with a ‘new authority.’ His sole appeal was that people would believe in him as the Son of God, as the promised Messiah; to come to faith in him because of the Truth he spoke the signs he performed. Yes, he showed his power over nature by calming storms and walking on water, but he never once used his divine power to force an issue or coerce one human will, or win any arguments, even when faced with false accusations and death. He did not come down from the cross though that would have been in his power, nor did he call upon all the angels and powers of heaven to defend him from Herod and Pontius Pilate, nor even to defeat Satan in a show of force.
The cross with its two axis is where heaven and earth, humanity and divinity collide in Christ’s total self-surrender for our salvation. If Jesus were only human, his death could not have conquered sin and death, could not have conquered this world and the powers of hell. And, if Jesus were only divine, would we ever have been able to see and hear God in a way that we could understand and believe? Would not God have remained distant and inaccessible to humanity and all of creation?
Most of you know by now that my own theology is an incarnational theology, a theology that is not afraid to find God in the human experience. But incarnational theology alone fails at the cross, because it is only by the power of God, by the Divine Life at work in Jesus that he is able to freely lay down his life and to take it up again in three days. This is why Jesus said: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18)
Is it any wonder the world could not contain nor fully appreciate or understand Jesus? And yet, he came into the world that we might have life. And Jesus did not shy away from challenging the world to believe in him – to come to him to have life. He was fully aware of the fears and egos and all the other reasons that prevented people from believing in him. When we speak of the world, we are speaking of all that stands against God; self-will, self-deception, self-love, self-sufficiency. This is the worldly spirit that prevents people from coming to Jesus, and thus he said: “But you do not want to come to me to have life.” And yet, Jesus does not force himself on anyone. At the same time, everyone who meets Jesus is confronted with an unconditional love and mercy, and this is such a love that it requires a response. This is the love we stand before today, as we gaze upon the crucified Christ. It is a love that is beyond our imagining, and yet, it is a love that is very real, personal, and inviting. It is a love that both scares and attracts. It is the very love to which St. Ignatius responded: “Do not let me run from the love which you offer.”
Here we are once again, at the foot of the cross, the perfect revelation of the perfect love of God. It is a Mystery so deep and intimately personal. As we gaze once again upon the crucified Jesus, let us hear once more his words: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32) This is the love which created and redeemed us. This is the love for which we are created. If we allow this love to scare us away, we shall never find fulfilment, nor shall we find true life. But, Oh, if only we say yes and respond in love, our life, as Christ’s, will have no end.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world!2