Good Friday; March 25, 2016
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
St. Ireneaus, one of the early Fathers of the Church said that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Well, was does it mean to be “fully alive”? What does it mean to be a human being in the total sense of the expression?
Ritually, we performed that truth last night in the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday. Imitating our Lord Jesus, we renewed our decision to serve the Church, which is the Body of Christ, by washing each other’s feet. The Lord, who is God in the Flesh, who is Immanuel—God among us—washed the feet of his closest disciples. And, since he is the teacher and we are his students, he asked that we, too should do the same towards one another.
Let’s be very clear: God served us first! And, since we are made in the image of God who is self-giving love, we are most human when we serve: when we pour ourselves out into the lives others, especially the poor, through service. Brothers and sisters, God, who is complete, perfect, and simply a Necessary Being, needs absolutely nothing from us. He lacks nothing. Yet, he condescended to become one of us, to unite his divinity with our humanity. And, being fully human, what does he do? He serves. GOD SERVES US.
The lesson is clear: if we want to be fully alive, we have to embrace a life that does not cling, that does not seek happiness through acquiring the goods of the world. Instead, we do what Jesus does: we lose ourselves in love. We emulate Jesus, who conquers sin and death, and who gives life the world.
As Pope Francis remind us , one who serves others, saves. Come again, Holy Father? Isn’t Jesus the Savior of the world? Of course, he is. While there is only one Savior, he gives us his very Mission to bring his salvation to the world. And, we do that by serving others in love. We do so because it is the Father’s will and we do so in the loving manner that God wants.
On the other hand, if we choose to live in our safe, comfortable, religious cocoon, where we go about the fussy business of trying to save our souls without regard for the well being of those on the margins, then we’re living a fraudulent life: one who does not serve does not live.
John’s famous gospel passage reminds us of this. “God so loved the world (Jn 3:16). God’s love is concrete, tangible, in your face. If you want to know just how much God loves you, look at the crucified Christ. You don’t need theology degrees to understand that visceral truth. Just look at Jesus on the Cross: God so loves you that he took our sin upon us, which killed him. Why did he do that? TO SAVE US! That’s why he willingly went to Calvary. He ended up on the Cross, he experienced that unfathomable separation from God the giver of life. It’s incredible enough that God would condescend to become a human being. But, to be subject to death, to experience that kind of debasement for our sake is beyond comprehension. You can’t make up a God so beautifully revealed to us by Jesus, God incarnate. God bends down to where we are, he serves us unconditionally in order to take upon himself all that is ours—sin, death, and the power of Satan—until he opens the doors of eternal life through his Resurrection.
People of God, Good Friday has so much to teach us. If Hollywood would be orchestrating it, we would conventionally expect salvation would be realized through some kind of triumphant divine victory: like world conquest or winning the Super Bowl fifty times in a row. But, no: Jesus does it through a most humble victory. Lifted up on the Cross, he allows evil, the seduction of Satan, and death to rage against him, while he continues to love. Can you believe that? Our sin is killing him and, yet, he is loving us to the very end! I’ve got to be honest: it is really difficult to accept this reality. It’s really a mystery that we don’t understand God very well. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Our thoughts on not God’s thoughts; his ways are not ours.” But, what lies at the base of this extraordinary humility, is the power of love. In the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, we see death crushing him. At the same time, we see the cure for death. And, it is possible that through the great love that God has for each one of us, through humble love in which we get down on our knees to serve others, we will know in our gut what it means to be human.
So, Jesus takes the absolutely worse thing that could ever happen—our sins killed the Son of God—and he transforms that into Good. Brothers and sisters, Jesus did not change things with words, but with actions. He didn’t go through the motions of religious observance, but he freely threw himself into our human condition and radically transformed it through the power of his Resurrection. In so doing, he made the Cross, a terrifying instrument of torture and death into a bridge to life. But, here’s the key: if we are going to participate in his divine life, to be transformed by it, we, too must willingly choose humble love, which means victorious eternal life. It is self-giving service, it is love that neither puts down, bullies, shouts nor coercively imposes itself, but happens through patience as we allow God to work in and through us.
So, People of God: do we want to be fully human? If so, we will embrace the Great Commandment. We will not concern ourselves what we don’t have here on earth, which can never address the yearnings of the human heart. Instead, we will keep our focus on the treasure that comes from above, that Pearl of Great Price. We won’t focus on what can serve our egoic needs, but with what truly serves. That’s the Paschal Mystery of the Lord which is sufficient for us to be fully human. Jesus IS THE ONE! It is through him that there is life, there is salvation, there is resurrection and joy. May that be enough for us.
Then we will look upon the crucified Christ and resolve to be servants according to this Sacred Heart. We won’t be functionaries who go about checking off a religious list of do’s and don’ts. We won’t do service to assuage or guilt or to do it to get to heaven. But, as beloved children of God we will give our life to the world. Just as Jesus did. Amen.