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Good Friday
Friday, March 30, 2018


    “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

     Legend has it that whenever the great and blessed Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico, painted a likeness of the crucified Christ, he did so on his knees, with tears in his eyes. Fra Angelico knew how to tremble.  By contrast, the noted American Protestant theologian, Martin Marty, reflecting on the American scene some years ago, observed that we are a people who tremble before very little.  So confident are we of our accomplishments and capabilities, our technologies and our war machines that, in his words, “we have forgotten how to tremble.”

     I think he’s right, although there are pivotal events that can stop us in our tracks and, for a time at least, cause us to tremble.  The recent tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, comes to mind, but so also do a host of similar events, too many to count. And then there are things of a personal nature that can cause us to tremble: the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, getting diagnosed with a terminal illness.

     But, my friends, more important than our trembling before something is our trembling before someone, and Good Friday is the day for that. Good Friday is the day for trembling before God, the day for trembling before the mystery – the unfathomable mystery – of a God who loves us so much that He sent his Son to take on not only our flesh and blood, but our sins, too, and our fears and failings, our pains, our tears, our hopes and dreams, our very selves and our very lives.  And he did more: in an act of love beyond all imagining, he stretched out his arms – willingly stretched them out – on the rough wood of a cross: innocent arms, vulnerable arms, but arms so strong that even in dying they were raised in blessing, even in dying they reached out to embrace and forgive every human being who has ever lived and who ever will. It is that mystery we tremble before this day and, my friends, we ought to tremble before it every day.

     But we must do more than tremble. We must discover in the cross the sign of our worth and the hope for our future. We must discover in the cross our pattern for living and the key for unlocking the mystery of this too violent world of ours. For the cross is both mystery and paradox: it is human hatred and human violence writ large, but it is also love writ large - wondrous love, love in a language we can understand.  And the cross is also the path to peace and reconciliation – the only path that will ever get us past the crippling and repetitive cycle of violence that rules our world.

     My friends, Jesus is God’s word of forgiveness in the face of unspeakable hatred and violence. And if we are to follow him, forgiveness is our only real choice: forgiveness, that decision of mind and heart to absolve, to bless, to let go.  Forgiveness has its perfect icon in Jesus, who on the cross prayed those amazing words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”  We who profess to follow him must learn how to translate what he did on Calvary into what we do now. We must come to realize that while forgiveness may look like weakness, it is the ultimate strength.

     During the Second World War, the great English Cathedral of Coventry was hit time and again by German bombs and utterly destroyed. It has since been rebuilt but, happily, the builders of the new Cathedral decided to leave standing what remained of the old – a graveyard of giant stones and chunks of gothic tracery that are still lying around. And over the place where the altar once stood are two charred timbers that must have fallen from high in the vault of the roof. The timbers have been crossed by someone’s holy hands and burnt into them for all to see are just two words, “Father, forgive.” 

     Dear friends in Christ, that is the message of Good Friday.  It is the message and the challenge of the cross and it will ever be so.  Somehow, in the midst of this world so darkened by hate, so convulsed by violence, so torn by divisions, we have to lift high the cross and let its outstretched arms embrace, absolve, and bless us.  And we have to tremble before the mystery of our crucified Lord who this day reached into the very depths of his wounded and broken heart to speak those unbelievable words can heal our hearts and even change the world: “Father, forgive!”

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303