This is the text of the homily I gave this year on Good Friday. It was inspired and borrows from an article by Rev. Robert Barron so I can’t claim credit for being so insightful and creative. A link to the article appears at the end of this post.
The Cross has become a tamed symbol. You see crosses everywhere and nobody gets too upset. There are crosses on church property for all to see. There are items of jewelry in the shape of cross that decorate both the devout Christian and the irreverent rap artist. The cross is innocuous in our time. Rather than a repulsive reminder of the authority of a cruel government set up along a road into town the cross has become just part of the background scenery, hardly noticed, if at all.
We may have forgotten how terrifying a crucifixion was to the people in Jesus’ lifetime. Crucifixion was a particularly horrific way for the people who ruled the Roman Empire to keep people in their place. You cross us, you try to rebel and Caesar will hang you up and make you suffer in ways you can’t imagine! Then when you die and the horrible pain is over we’ll humiliate you some more and let vultures eat the flesh off your bones while your body hangs there rotting. So, be good people who know their place. Crosses with crucified dead and dying “revolutionaries” were constantly on display as people traveled the road in and out of town as a reminder to the populace that they had been conquered by Rome. The cross’ message; Don’t cause trouble. The violence of crucifixion was used as a method to exert domination and control. No one would have thought of decorating their home or wearing a cross around their neck. That would have been just sick!
Yet tonight we reverence a cross brought into our gathering with kisses and touch and genuflections. We will give thanks for a crucifixion and the cross on which an innocent man hung in excruciating pain. The message of the cross doesn’t scare us. Why?…
Because we know that the cross of Jesus did not defeat him. The violence of the cross, the symbol of this world’s power to control our lives, was unable to destroy a “human like us in all things but sin.” As author Fr. Robert Barron recently wrote [We Christians know] that God had raised the crucified Jesus from the dead, proving thereby that God’s love and forgiveness are greater than anything in the world. This is why our Christian exaltation of the cross is a sort of taunt to Rome and all of its brutal descendants down through the ages: “You think [a cross] scares us? God has conquered that!” And this is why, to this day, Christians boldly hold up an image of the humiliated, tortured Jesus to the world. What they are saying is, “We are not afraid.””
Because of Jesus we’re not scared of death what ever way death may come to the Christian. Death isn’t the end of a person who has been united to Christ’s death in baptism. Death is just a passage to a new way of living.
Now, we may think the crucifixion of Jesus happened about 2000 years ago. People using violence to attempt to bring others into subjugation to their will continues even in the 21st century. In the guise of the “Body of Christ” that is the Christian church Christ is crucified again and again still today. And as it was for the early Christians the Cross becomes a sign of hope that enables them to face what ever force tries to compel the believer in Christ to be subject to it’s will, be it disease, war or terrorism or even old age or accidents.
Again, here’s what author Fr. Barron wrote. Last month “[T]he attention of the world was riveted to a deserted beach in northern Libya, where a group of twenty-one Coptic Christians were brutally beheaded by masked operatives of the ISIS movement. In the wake of the executions, ISIS released a gruesome video entitled “A Message in Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” I suppose that for the ISIS murderers the reference to “the Nation of the Cross” had little sense beyond a generic designation for Christianity.
“Just before their throats were cut, many of the murdered Coptic Christians could be seen mouthing the words “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus is Lord.” … In short, both declarations assert the kingship of Jesus, but what a strange kingship! The new David reigns, not from a throne, but from a cross; the one who trumps Caesar doesn’t lead an army, but embodies the divine forgiveness.”
“The ISIS barbarians were actually quite right in entitling their video “A Message Written in Blood.” Up and down the centuries, tyrants and their [accomplices, indeed all evil forces like disease, poverty, the destructive forces of nature, all] have thought that they could wipe out the followers of Jesus through acts of violence. But as Tertullian observed long ago, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. And [people like ISIS] were furthermore right in sending their message to “the Nation of the Cross.” But [terrorists like ISIS] should know that the cross taunts them.”
The event in history we celebrate this night in ritual is our proclamation as members of “the Nation of the Cross” death does not scare us! We embrace it and welcome it with a holy kiss for our brother, our savior Jesus, the Christ, has forever changed death into the way to life.
Please note: The general idea for the homily relies heavily upon and the quotes in this homily are from A MESSAGE IN BLOOD: ISIS AND THE MEANING OF THE CROSS by Fr. Robert Barron • February 26, 2015 accessed via the internet at http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/a-message-in-blood-isis-and-the-meaning-of-the-cross/4677/
Check out Fr. Barron’s website Word On Fire