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Good Friday
March 25, 2016 

Click here to listen to this homily (mp4 file)

    We are standing on some very holy ground tonight.  Everything in this solemn liturgy makes that clear.  There are few moments in our faith-journey that bring us any closer to the heart of our faith than this moment we call Good Friday.  Holy ground it is, and we are standing on it.

     It is high ground, too. Good Friday is a hilltop from which we are able to see far into the distance, a mountaintop from which we are able to reach out and nearly touch the untouchable, touch God! From this elevation we gain perspective on God, on ourselves, and on all the things in life that really count.

     Mountain tops are places where people meet God, as we in the Northwest know only too well. It has always been this way.  Do you remember the first time Moses met God?  It was on a mountainside where he was tending sheep. God called out to him from a bush that was all aflame, yet not consumed by the fire.  And he told Moses to remove his sandals because it was holy ground he was standing on.  And Moses stood there in awe, sandals in hand, while God spoke to him and shared with him a tremendous, as yet unheard-of secret. God told him his name. “I am who am,” God said. ‘I am existence, being itself. I am the One who is and who will always be there for you and with you.’ And from that moment on, Moses and the people knew something about God that was terribly important, and in knowing it, they gained a certain power over God, if I may put it that way.

     High ground. Holy ground.  Centuries later in a land called Galilee, Jesus took some friends up onto yet another hillside, a hillside above a lake blue and beautiful, a hillside where, again, some ordinary mortals like you and me got to come very close to God.  And, as God once had to Moses, Jesus told his disciples some wonderful, unheard-of secrets, secrets we have heard since we were children, heard so many times, perhaps, that they may have ceased to surprise and excite us the way secrets should:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he said, “Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted.

     And the one who preached that Sermon on the Mount, as we call it, knew how to practice what he preached, because practice it he did: in a living sermon on yet another mount, the hill called Calvary, a sermon with few words but, without question, the most powerful sermon ever given. It is that sermon we have gathered to hear once again tonight.  Tonight, my friends, thanks to the power of liturgy to make the past present, we are standing on the hilltop called Calvary, standing on high and holy ground.  Tonight we are doing the very thing Moses and the disciples of Jesus did on their holy hillsides: we are reaching out and touching God. And God is reaching out and touching us.  Touching us, and transforming us.

     Tonight, on this hilltop, God is speaking to us a secret greater even than the one Moses learned of old; a secret even more comforting and challenging than the one Jesus announced on the Mount of Beatitudes. Tonight, Jesus is telling us God’s great secret, and the secret is this: we are loved by the God whose name is mercy, loved beyond all imagining!

     But there is a certain scandal about this secret, this second Sermon on the Mount: the scandal of a God who so identified with us, so wallowed in the misery of our world, that he became nearly indistinguishable from it.  And there is something in us that expects God to be above all this: removed and untainted by human history and human sinfulness, safely beyond the reach of the sort of suffering that seems fitting enough for the creature, but unimaginable for the Creator. But at the same time, something else tells us that a God who would become so vulnerable as to die the death of a common criminal is the only God worth believing in.

     My friends, the real sermon on this Good Friday is written in the twisted body of Jesus nailed on the cross which we will soon come forth to venerate. But the sermon doesn’t end there.  After hearing it once again this Good Friday, we need to go on hearing it in all the ways it is being preached every day.  For the cross, my friends, is in the present, not just the past. What happened in Brussels the other day is the cross, and what is happening in the squalid homeless encampments no more than three blocks from here is the cross. For the cross is more than a religious symbol we venerate. The cross is carried daily by countless people who struggle with the pains, the paradoxes, the agonies, the absurdities of life. The cross is what we do to others; the cross is what is done to us.

     The cross is in our private struggles – our moments of personal agony and defeat - and it is in our public moments of inhumanity toward each other; the cross is there when we refuse to use our power to help the poor and downtrodden, and it’s there when we misuse our power, imposing our will on others, denying people their dignity, their rights, or even life itself.

     The cross is not just one solitary tree on a lonely hilltop.  The cross is a forest of trees. Through all ages until the end of time, the cross will stand wherever sin abounds, whenever innocent people suffer. But the cross is even more: the cross of Jesus is a crossroads – the place where evil does not get the last word, the place where evil is transformed into good, where death and life meet in mortal combat, and life wins the day.  Thanks to the cross of Jesus and to what happened on this day, there is no human evil that cannot be overcome by the gentle force of love. That is why this day, for all its darkness and all its bitterness, will always and forever be called Good….

     Father Michael G. Ryan



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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