This is the text I used to give my homily at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and Veneration of the Cross Good Friday evening at St. Stephen. When I preach I may have a text in front of me but often I add to or edit “on the fly” in the proclamation of the message. But this is essentially what was proclaimed. May it help you reflect on the meaning of the Lord Jesus’ death for the world.
Good Friday Homily – 2011
St. Stephen, Caseyville
Written by Rev. Joseph C. Rascher © 2011
Today, by coincidence is “Earth Day.” All over the media and internet you get the message that it’s Earth Day. Perhaps there is a little notice that, oh yeah, it is also Good Friday for Christians, but it’s Earth Day! The official website (yes, there is an official website for Earth Day) encourages people to post a billion “Acts of Green.” Pledge an act, save the planet!
But will a bunch of environmentally friendly acts really save the planet?
I am by no means discouraging people to be “green” – even Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both preached that Catholics & Christians should take seriously the obligation to be stewards of the resources of the planet, not selfishly using them but responsibly protecting them for future generations…
To be honest, the Earth needs a salvation bigger than protecting its environment!
There are many other signs of destruction of life that humanity needs to be saved from. Human efforts at “Acts of good will” won’t save the race. There is war in Afghanistan, hunger in Dufar, and despotic leaders killing their own citizens. There are diseases and earthquakes, poverty and homelessness and random acts of violence against immigrants in city neighborhoods.
As a race humans still haven’t learned the lesson that violence and subjugation of other people doesn’t make a better world. The Earth may need protection from the human race. The planet needs to share in the redemption of humanity (as St. Paul said – ALL creation is longing and groaning as it awaits the redemption of humanity).
Redemption is a word that means to be rescued from death. And death is the natural outcome of giving into the power of the human tendency to be selfish, for the individual to exert whatever power he or she has for preservation of self. The history of humanity seems to be a conflict to see who “wins” or who the strongest victor is.
Who’s got the “power” or the upper hand, the power struggle that claims a false authority is at the heart of the passion account by St. John. All sorts of power are tried or exerted in an attempt to prove who or what is in charge of human affairs:
Peter tries violence striking with a sword and cutting off the servant’s ear.
Annas & Caiaphas the high priest wield Religious authority/power.
Pilate – represents the realm of the Roman Political and civil power.
The power of the military is brought to force – soldiers are used to keep order in the nation and crucify rabble rousers who dare question the power of Rome.
The power of persuasion is tried – “Don’t you know I have the power of life and death over you?”
The power of fear takes hold of Peter who denies Jesus.
There is the power of public opinion at work, a sort of mob rule – “Who shall I release for you? Give us Barabbas, not ‘this one!’” reducing Jesus to a nameless figure.
And in the center of all this wielding of power is a seemingly powerless figure who looks like a victim – Jesus!
The joke is on the mighty in the Passion of John. Jesus, according to this telling of the story of his death, Jesus is in charge! He has the ultimate power that trumps all other forces that motivate humans.
Early in the passion narrative, when Jesus asks the crowd “Who are you looking for?” the crowd responds “Jesus of Nazareth.” Instead of saying “I am he,” Jesus makes the statement “I AM.” Jesus is using the name God gave Moses in the burning bush! John the story-teller is saying, “HEY! Pay attention! This is GOD and He’s in control of this story line.” In response John has the crowd “Fall to the ground,” a sign of worship!”
Who’s in control in the narrative? Listen!
“Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him…”
Jesus answered Pilate – “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”
Jesus is in control all the time – not by exercise of force, not by imposing his will on others through some manipulation of the circumstances
– but because he has complete trust in God to make all things right.
Was Jesus afraid? – yes, of course. He was human. Did the Father want Jesus to die a horrible death? – NO…but the Father Jesus put his fate in the hands of did desire to end the violence of death and the only way to do that was for Jesus to die, to go mano a mano so to speak – to enter that combat stupendous according to one of our Eater hymns.
Violence, especial death that does extreme violence to the human person, would be defeated not by power, but by selflessness, a sacrifice of the self for the good of others. Non-violence, non-resistance, a embracing of the oppressor would disarm and defeat death. Jesus, breaks the cycle of violence and death by embracing the cross! It is what we call the paschal mystery.
This is what we are asked to do this evening. We are to recommit ourselves to the way of powerlessness, the way of trust that God will set things right if we embrace death. We reunite ourselves with the true King of endless glory who we were made part of when we died with him in baptism.
If we want to save the world and everyone who has ever lived on it, we must in the core of our heart and mind and soul do what our ritual action says we are about this evening…embrace death, kiss death, let our lives be sacrificed for the sake of others non-violently; just the way we walk up to a representation of the cross of Jesus and kiss it.
This is the work of the believer: to share in the salvation of the world by sharing in “acts of selflessness” for we know Jesus is really in charge and all the other powers are mere imposters.