Good Friday

– Thank you Joan for being with us today and stepping up to read this Gospel lesson! The Reading of the Passion can be overwhelming…First of all because it’s long, of course. We’ve read Luke’s version of the Passion on Palm Sunday with different voices. Today we have the Passion according to John – a shorter version but still long. There is so much going on, so many things happen in such a short span of time (Adam Hamilton: “24 hours that changed the world”). But of course, it is not the only reason why the reading is overwhelming. It is mostly overwhelming emotionally, with an intensity of suffering we can barely start to imagine. On top of that, in John’s version at least, the political tension is very palpable with Pilate pacing back and forth in his palace and also in his guilty conscience…choosing with the crowd the Emperor above the king of the Jews…Finally (and mainly) the reading of the Passion raises also a lot of disturbing questions about our faith: Where was God in this? Did Jesus really have to die this way? How does it redeem us?

– And so it can be overwhelming – and we may feel the need to take a step back. As I was preparing for today, this is just what I did, I closed my laptop, my books, my articles and I just sat to listen to the wonderful St John’s Passion by Bach. And suddenly I remembered the first time I heard this music knowing what it was about. And this is the strange thing that happened the first time I heard it: I was shocked. Delighted, but shocked. Shocked that the music was so beautiful when it was about something so tragic and so confusing as the crucifixion, the suffering and the death of the Lord. And I remember wondering: Does it make sense to create so much beauty out of it? Is it even “morally right” to do a masterpiece about betrayal, torture and execution? Shouldn’t we just be overwhelmed and horrified and mourning at the whole thing – instead of singing? Since then, Mel Gibson realized his movie about the Passion. I haven’t seen it and do not plan to, but one could wonders: isn’t it more accurate, more “real” to describe the horror, violence and suffering the Passion of Jesus was, instead of turning it into something beautiful?

– Well, as we think about this, it’s interesting to look at John’s understanding of the Passion because it somewhat differs from the stories of the Passion in the three other Gospels. In John’s, from the beginning, Jesus seems to know what is going to happen, to anticipate it and to accept it. It is his “hour” and Jesus seems to be completely in control of what’s happening. A lot of people don’t like this version of the Passion b/c they don’t think it’s real. If the reading of the Passion is overwhelming for us, then we should assume that Jesus himself, at the center of the whole drama, was overwhelmed and not in control of the events, of his emotions and of his pain…But I would like to share with you a conversation we had recently during our Lenten study that could make us think differently about it. We shared recently stories of terrible events that happened to us / we all had our own “Good Friday stories”, times of loss, pain and despair in our lives. And yet in the midst of that, some of us shared that, as they went through their own “Good Friday”, they also experienced a sense of peace. I thought it was something very brave to acknowledge those feelings that at first don’t seem to make sense. Because it does not really make sense to feel peace in the midst of tragic events and yet, a lot of us could testify that this was what happened. Peace was not present all the time of course, but looking back some of us could see how the grace of God was present / how they felt being held by God. Well, maybe those experiences can make us differently about Jesus’s Passion. I am not so sure that John is showing a Jesus who is in control, rather than a Jesus who is at peace. A Jesus who is at peace throughout it all.

– This could mean that Bach has it right over Mel Gibson because Good Friday is so much more than torture and execution. Although Good Friday is terrible; because there is this sense of beauty and peace, Good Friday it is still good and part of the good news of the Gospel and we are drawn to it. I don’t think it is a fascination or curiosity about violence and pain that draws us to it. I think it is is more because we can see peace in all this pain, and yes beauty – dignity and majesty and also goodness, forgiveness and even tenderness (like when Jesus says to Mary:“this is your son”) – all those things still present in the midst of hell.

– And maybe this is how it redeems us / it redeems everything. We have made Redemption with a capital R a big word, but maybe we can just look at the cross and see how the beauty, tenderness and peace Jesus sends us from the cross redeem us from our own sufferings. Because we can see how much Christ loves us in being with us even through hell, and we can see ourselves in Christ. When we suffer, we are not only this person crushed by evil, adversity, disease, rejection, trauma. Our world often looks at people who suffer as if they were a failure, or at least it looks at suffering as if it was a failure. But the Gospel looks at those who suffer as if they were Christ, and it changes everything. The Gospel shows us that we still have dignity and majesty in the midst of sufferings: We are capable of tenderness, forgiveness, sometimes even capable of this sense of irony very present in John’s Gospel that enables us to distance ourselves. We are more than our tragedies. It does not mean we can always be “strong” or “in control” or that we should act indifferent…But in the midst of suffering, we can learn how to be still, to bend in the storm and have an enduring love for who we are, for others, for God, for life. A friend with depression told me a few days ago that Life was a wonderful gift, in spite of her sorrows. Because of the cross, we are not defeated by the powers of death and evil. There is so much more to reality than what meets the eye. When it’s hell outside, there can still be moments of peace inside.

– And so, if we can find peace in those moments, then it means we don’t have to run from suffering. And it’s good news. We live in a world that wants to avoid suffering at all cost, but sometimes running away from suffering can be exhausting and in the long run creates more suffering than anything else because it numbs us and isolates us from reality. As we look at the cross, maybe we can start accepting suffering as a part of our lives and, even more, as a holy part of our lives, in the same way that suffering was a holy part of Jesus’ life. Maybe, as Jesus did, we can learn how to “receive” suffering, believing it is not going to destroy who we are. On the other side, it could be part of the process of becoming. We all have our Good Friday stories, we all have stories of our own undoing and we all have our stories of peace, how we came to realize that suffering was part of the doing, of the becoming, becoming children of God or just simply becoming more human. Suffering is a mystery, but it’s a mystery we can sit with.

– It’s Good Friday. Resurrection is not there yet. Resurrection is above the doing and the undoing intermingled in this life, above the suffering. And yet, the story of the Passion tells us that it is possible for us to sit w/ the pain / to sit with the absence of God, to sit with the absence of the God who rescues us, because in the absence of God, God is still here, Jesus brought God in all our places of darkness, there is no hell that we cannot look at thinking of the cross. So today, instead of receiving communion, instead of receiving the risen Lord as we do each Sunday,we are invited to look at the crucified one and to adore the cross. We are invited to come closer, look at the cross, bow down, touch the cross, kiss the cross (as you feel moved to) and, as we do that, we are invited to remember our own Good Fridays but also to remember our stories of peace. We are invited to ask that Christ give us the grace to look at the cross as a reflection of our suffering selves where we’re able to see beauty, dignity and goodness whatever we’re going through. Amen.

Lent V

– We’re doing this Lenten study – our theme last Wednesday was hospitality. One of the participants shared a compelling story. Volunteered to serve a meal for people in need, but when she showed up she was asked to first have dinner with everybody and just talk with them – she would serve later. Felt a bit frustrated, after all she was there to serve, but she still did what she was told. Sat next to a woman and started to have a nice talk with her. Talked with everybody and actually enjoyed herself so much that she stayed the whole time just sitting and chatting with everybody / there were enough volunteers to serve the meal. When the woman she first talked to left she said to her something that brought tears to her eyes: “I came just to have food but you gave me much more, you made me feel loved.”

– I could not help but thinking about this story as I read the Gospel / how Mary made Jesus feel loved and special…and it also made me sad to realize that I could not think of any other place in the Gospel where there is mention of somebody giving something to Jesus or doing something for Jesus (Except the Magis when Jesus is a baby and Joseph of Arimathea giving his tomb, after Jesus’s death but nothing in between except for Mary’s gift of perfume). Most of the time, even among the disciples, everybody was waiting for Jesus to give them something but nobody gave him anything. Another thing that made me sad when I read comments about this Gospel, is that nobody seems to be able to make sense of the story: Why does Mary do that? What is the meaning hidden behind such a gesture? Well…there is no hidden meaning! Mary does something for free, out of thankfulness, out of love – not expecting anything in return, just to honor Jesus. But it seems that it is something not that simple to understand…

– We know we live in a world of competition and need for efficiency, but maybe we don’t always realize the subtle ways this culture is already present in us, the “disciples”, and how this culture is present in the church and in the way we sometimes do ministry, serve and relate to God. Culture summed up by Judas when he says: “We could have saved this money to give to the poor” (other versions of Gospel even mention: “instead of wasting it” – which is not very nice for Jesus, if you think about it!). But it’s economics reasoning and this is the way we often think, even as a church. It’s not that there is a conflict between what we believe in and do or fail to do. We believe in God and we do good in God’s name, but the way we do good sometimes goes wrong because we forget the most important, we forget to make people feel loved. We do good but there is no (room/ time for) deeper love in our goodness. It generally does not occur out of bad will, we are full of good will, but we participate in a culture of calculation / cost effectiveness. We want to be efficient or as we say “to make a difference” and so we hope to see results.

– Recently I heard a priest telling this story. She sat at a clergy conference where the speaker asked: “Why the church, why are we the church?” And all those clergy people were like: “We have to do something, the world is such a hard place, so many social issues etc…”But this priest noticed, at the conference, nobody said we are the church b/c of the love of Christ. And she observed: Of course we need to do good, yes, but there are non profits to do that as well! Our unique role as the church / as Christians is to make people feel loved / enable them to receive the love of God and to learn how love God in return. Receive the love of God and love God in return – that’s our mission and that’s huge. It’s not enough to be a good doer. The Gospel tells us today: Even Judas was a good doer! Which can be scary if you think about it…

– We should not be contented with being good doers. Christianity is not about transforming us in good doers for different reasons:

*The boasting (Like Paul had all the reason to think of himself “zealous, righteous and blameless”)
*The burning out (Compassion exhaustion is a real thing! We cannot do it all…Indeed Jesus says: “the poor will always be among us” – there is no end to the work)
*Missing the whole point: We serve but never take time to make people feel loved / if we spend too much time fixing somebody’s problem, we see (only) their problems but we don’t engage in a relationships. We feed the poor but we don’t sit with them. People don’t just need to be fed with food / they need to be fed with love – that includes those who serve too.
Beauty of Eucharist: food for the body as well as for the heart and for the soul.

Being a Christian is about inward transformation / Changing our hearts / Entering the relationships with God and with one another.

That’s the hardest! Why? Judas points it out in other versions of this story in the Gospel: This woman is wasting what could be a good source of income, and we are all afraid of waste. What kind of waste? There is the material waste of course / obviously this expensive perfume was luxury and I hate to preach about the need to be able to waste at a time when we should be very mindful of our resources, not so much financially but mostly ecologically…Yet, I think the Gospel invites us not so much to be able to waste materially but it invites to contemplate how afraid we can be of wasting our time, our energy. Again, we want to be efficient / to see objective results…have a return on investment…

– But even deeper, we may be afraid of opening up and wasting feelings and emotions. Giving w/o receiving in return:
Feelings bring the possibility of rejection that is something everyone wants to avoid at all costs. If feelings are not involved, no one can get hurt. The biggest risk someone can take is to develop feelings and express them.” I am not saying that – a college student named Emma. Found this quotation in an article by a college chaplain reflecting on how it is hard for young people to live in a culture where, the chaplain says: “Social influences make us ashamed of our most basic needs for genuine affirmation, emotional intimacy and support”. This chaplain tries to address in her ministry the “casual sex” culture that exists in college that prevents students from forming deeper relationships. But it is true in different ways, not only in romantic/ sexual encounters. We shy away from creating deeper relationships. We serve the poor but it’s hard to really engage with them, talk with them. We worship God but we don’t really come close to God. The disciples like to listen to Jesus but they don’t understand when Mary respectfully touch and kiss him. They are shocked. Judas criticizes her.

Having feelings and expressing love is taking a risk, today as it was at Jesus’ time: We risk being hurt, disappointed, rejected, mocked, taken advantage of. Young people know it well and it’s very sad that like this Emma, they may come to the conclusion it is safest to choose not to get involved.

Our challenge as Christians is to promote a counter culture where it is okay to engage in meaningful relationships/ okay to love. Doesn’t have to be emotional / but where we allow our hearts to be touched, where we can express how we feel and who we are without shame, where we are able to make mistakes and ask for forgiveness without feeling threatened, where we can work on issues and relationships instead of ignoring people, where we can show weaknesses w/o having someone making fun of us or abuse us, where we can be willing to give but also be willing to receive…

How do we practice that?Maybe, like Mary, we need to do things for no reason – just for the sake of love. Just like that. Rediscover gratuity. Stores that sell cards there is a section for very occasion and then there is the “Thinking of you” section, when you want to show your love to somebody for no reason. Maybe that’s where we need to go! Because the wonder for me is that the gospel shows us that it is the less important that actually is what matters the most (Last will be the first). Jesus is about to die, that’s when Mary needs to let him know how much she loves him by doing something apparently completely useless!

Strange reversal of situations: What seems completely useless, wasteful is what will last for eternity (“Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, her gesture will be remembered”). Funeral I attended recently: What these people remembered from their grandmother was holding hands, have an ice cream, sitting together to watch the sun rise.

– Gestures only to be enjoyed like the fragrance of the perfume that will fade away. Lenten study: It is all about joy. Joy felt in her heart for this volunteer. What’s the point if what we do don’t make us happy, don’t make anyone happy? It probably don’t make God happy either. Pb with Judas: he is sad!! As we enter Holy week: Where there is love, there may be suffering but there is always joy.