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Good Friday
during the coronavirus pandemic
April 10, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily
(homily begins at 44:00)

 
    We are standing on some very holy ground this afternoon.  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. And, yes, we would far prefer to be standing together in the Cathedral on this holy ground but, my friends, no matter how separated we may feel, we are still the Body of Christ, and that means that we are very much together on the holy ground that is Good Friday.

     And not only is Good Friday holy ground, 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 hear once again this afternoon, and 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. 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.

     In this liturgy, on this hilltop, God speaks to us a secret greater even than the one Moses learned of old; a secret more comforting and challenging than the one Jesus proclaimed on the Mt of Beatitudes - God’s great secret, this secret: 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: it’s 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. There is something in us that expects God to be above all this: removed and untainted by human history, human messiness, 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. 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. The terrible scourge of Covid 19 is the cross because the cross is more than a religious symbol we venerate – far more. The cross is being carried daily by countless people who struggle with the pains, the paradoxes, the agonies, the absurdities of life. In a particular way, at this moment, I think of all of those on the front lines of the pandemic crisis – especially the unsung heroes in the medical world – who are daily putting their lives on the line for others.

     It is at times like this that we begin to see the cross for what it is, begin to see Christ suffering in his members, suffering in all of us who are his Body.

     My friends, don’t think of the cross as a solitary tree on a lonely hilltop long ago. The cross is a forest of trees. Through all ages - including ours - until the end of time, the cross will stand wherever there is human suffering and death. But the cross of Jesus is also a crossroads – the place where good and evil meet, where evil tries but fails to get the last word, the place where evil gets transformed into good, a crossroads 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 and will not be overcome by the gentle force of love.

       And that, my friends, 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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