We have reached the point of our journey where we find Jesus emptying himself, and we are invited to take part with our own acts of emptying. That invitation is to empty ourselves for others in our daily lives—not in isolation, but in the midst of community and out in the world full of opportunity for us to act as Christ.
On this Good Friday, we gather to remember a time of great vulnerability. Of course, there was the vulnerability of Jesus on the cross, the execution itself. And there was the vulnerability of all those who were there, those who loved Jesus, and those who despised him. All were forever changed by what happened that afternoon so long ago.
In that act of vulnerability, everything changed.
We gather to tell the story—our salvation story—once again. And we continue the story, together, as a community that follows the cross of Jesus. Today is a day to reflect on how we enter the story with our own, in that spirit of vulnerability. What experiences of loss, or pain, or shame, are we carrying with us as we stand before the cross? Perhaps we or someone we love is struggling with addiction. Or maybe as we heard the passion, we were reminded of the grief we are working through right now, still fresh and raw, as we faced death in the passion narrative. Look around, see all those who are gathered here with you, each is carrying some story of pain, or grief, or loss, or shame. You might never know the specifics of the story your neighbor holds in the pew next to or near you. And you might feel like the burden you carry is unlike anything anyone has ever had to go through. But look around again, and know that you are not alone, you are never ever alone.
Today is Friday, that moment in our journey of Holy Week when we stand before the cross. Often we can get stuck here—in the grief, in the pain, in the shame that is a part of our story. But, we know how the story ends. The point of today, the reason we gather, is not to mourn the death of Jesus, but to rejoice in the fact that death doesn’t have the final say. We are resurrection people. And Easter is coming friends, Easter is coming.
Today we do not mourn, but move more deeply into the paschal mystery, the mystery of life and death. We celebrate the victory of the cross, and the cross which we venerate is a symbol of that victory — victory over death, over pain, over grief, over addiction, over shame.
Shortly, as we continue in our liturgy, we will offer our prayers for many intentions. We will pray for the church, for government leaders, for the poor, for people of other faiths, for our brothers and sisters that have died. Indeed, you will probably notice that our prayers of the faithful this day is longer than usual. That is intentional, because the cross we prayerfully and reverently venerate, moves us beyond ourselves, it is a means of conversion, of awakening. Through the cross, we see the suffering of others, through the cross, we are reminded of the world outside ourselves.
Henri Nouwen reflected on that awakening in a series of prayers he wrote during Holy Week in 1986 [Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Meditations on Jesus (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1989)]:
I look at you Lord, and I see your pierced side, the place where your heart is broken. As I look, my eyes begin to recognize the anguish and agony of all the people for whom you gave yourself. Your broken heart becomes the heart of all of humanity, the heart of all the world. You carry them all: abandoned children, rejected wives and husbands, broken families, the homeless, refugees, prisoners, the maimed and tortured, and the thousands, yes millions, who are unloved, forgotten and left alone to die. I see their emaciated bodies, their despairing faces, their anguished looks. I see them all there, where your body is pierced and your heart is ripped apart. O compassionate Lord, your heart is broken because of all the love that is not given or received.
Today, as our journey of Holy Week continues, we enter the story…that old, old story that began with the cross, continued with the resurrection, and continues with all of us today, called to give and receive love, as a community that follows that cross of Jesus.
Originally published in “Loose-leaf Lectionary for Mass,” Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Copyright 2020. For subscription information, visit: https://litpress.org/loose-leaf-lectionary/index