– 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.