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Good Friday Homily

Good Friday is a hard day for many of us.  It's often difficult to think of what's "good" about it.  There are many questions that arise.

Like where do you stand on the matter of capital punishment?  Good Friday is a day when we confront it and have to face it. 

Do you think of Jesus as someone who was clearly and absolutely innocent of any offense, whether against humankind or God?  Good Friday is when we remember Jesus was executed as a traitor in a manner that some say demonstrated it was God and not just the Roman Empire that judged him. 

Do you believe that people who are good will also be successful and left at peace?  Good Friday would certainly seem to speak against all of that.

Yes, it's a hard day, and many of us only contemplate it in the context of "It's Friday ... but Sunday's comin!"  On this day, we often want to rush ahead onto Easter, because Good Friday is about pain and humiliation and desertion.  And certainly in this present time and age, with the news around the globe, it becomes far more difficult for us to be either ignorant of suffering and the denial of death. 

No, Good Friday isn't pretty.  It doesn't fit in well with the Flash-animated slideshows on many church websites that show an endless parade of mostly young and always smiling faces.  For us, Good Friday is an image problem; it’s a downer that makes us uncomfortable.

Yet I have met folks for whom Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is a time and an image of profound consolation.  And when I've thought about what was different between those people and communities that are consoled by Good Friday and those distressed by it, my mind keeps coming back to this:

Good Friday is a day when those who are suffering what Jesus suffered enter into the mystery: the mystery of God’s suffering with them.

God knows the suffering of those who could read with all integrity and from their own experience the "suffering servant" passages of Isaiah as THEIR story, and sing the Psalms of lament as THEIR songs.  God knows the suffering of the poor, of the refugee and the displaced, of those who live in fear in occupied territories; of those who feel constantly vulnerable to economic, political, and military forces beyond their control, or even that of their family or village or nation.  God knows the suffering of the hungry and the outcast, of those taken advantage of because the world sees them as meek and mild.  God knows the grief of those who mourn, the pain of seeing betrayal at the hands of those from whom you expected solidarity.  God knows the anguish that just might be the hardest of all to bear -- the terrible loneliness of one who is suffering all of these things, and who feels torn from or abandoned by everyone who might provide consolation -- even God.

We have known these things, and our God has known these things also.

God knows all of the pain, personally and profoundly, because God suffered it all in the person of Jesus.

Our Lord, naked on the cross, vulnerable to insects and birds, exposed to sun, wind and rain, and to the most predatory thing of all – other human beings whose humanity has been twisted by violence -- is an icon to the poor, suffering, and vulnerable that says:

You are not abandoned.  We are not alone.

This is not just the well-intentioned "I feel your pain" spoken by someone in a position of comfort to someone suffering; it's not some more pious version of "I've been there, and I remember just how horrible it was" that expresses at least as much relief on the speaker's part that it's over.

The broken body of Jesus Christ is not some garment that God tried on, didn't like, and tossed aside to put on some more festive Easter duds; it is an icon of who God is in God's eternal nature.  God was and is and always will be -- until the day when every tear is wiped from our eyes, and sorrow and sighing shall be no more – God is present with, one with, suffering with those who suffer, the outcast, the poor, the lonely and the alienated.  When we say that "God identifies with the poor," we're not just talking about actor's empathy; we're talking about the core of who God is, and how we best understand God's identity.

There’s strength and power that comes from seeing God in the midst of suffering.  If God is with us in the muck, in the most painful and lonely moments of those abandoned and tortured by the empires of this world, then even in those moments, we can respond with compassion as deep as integrity, for we have seen in the suffering of the poor, the very face of God.

Jesus taught this with words and deeds in the weeks before he set his face on Jerusalem, toward the cross.  He said that the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are hated and reviled and persecuted were blessed, honored by God; he spoke woes to the rich and the comfortable and to the elites of Jerusalem at whose mercy he was, and found none.  But he spoke even the woes with true and deep compassion, because he knew God's face, and would seek it even to death on a cross.

It's hard sometimes in our culture to live out Jesus' compassion.  Many of us have been taught from before we could speak to fear anything and anyone who reminded us of our vulnerabilities – of illness, from aging, in misfortune, with grief, knowing loneliness, and facing death.  We are tempted to surround ourselves with icons of perfect wholeness.

But God gave us Good Friday.  We have the opportunity, however hard we gulp before taking it in, and however uncomfortable it makes us feel, to seek God's face in the suffering of others in this world.  Our economies, sometimes religious authorities and elected officials, whatever empire it may be in this world seizes upon our fears to take everything away: dignity, health, friends, family, and even life itself -- and yet we are still called to gaze into the muck to seek God's face.

It isn't easy.  There are reasons the writer of the spiritual said, "Sometimes it causes me to tremble."

But there is peace and forgiveness.  The wounds of Jesus declared an end to anyone's right to wound; the death of Christ declared an end to anyone's need to kill; the strength and courage and compassion to be naked before the powers of this world, and to see that in the power of our suffering, there is still a dying, but triumphant and living God.  God With Us, for us.

We, who are both saints and sinners, kneel before the cross and hear it speaking to us as both verdict and promise.  It is true; each one of us is guilty of our participation in the world’s suffering.  We, each bearing the image and likeness of God in our very skin, do not respect that image in one another.  We do not respect God’s creations – one another, or the world we live in.  We must admit this or there is no need for the salvation Christ brings.  We must admit we are in bondage to these patterns of hurt before we can be liberated from them.  That is the promise of Good Friday: we will be liberated from these crosses – the ones we hang on and the ones we hang on one another.  These crosses, at once symbols of the divisions between us and a symbol of the end to all divisions, promise that God will not abandon us in our suffering.

The story of Jesus’ passion does not gain its power from the severity of Christ’s suffering; people around the world suffer in dramatic ways every day.  Rather, it draws its power by demonstrating the depth of God’s solidarity with all who suffer.  For all of us do suffer in some way; in body, mind or spirit; and God is with us whenever and however we hurt.

So as the church, we are now called to search out the many crosses on which God’s people now hang and join them at the point of their deepest need.  Jesus commanded us to love one another as He has loved us, and continues to love us.  He went to Calvary for us, and He calls us now to follow him.