Friday, April 10, 2009
Good Friday and the Easter Triduum
Greetings and peace! This is the first post since retreat began several weeks ago, a brief foray from out of the cybersilence while I am on retreat. Several of the tertians were invited to serve the local church communities for the Easter Triduum. I volunteered to take anything that was left over after everyone had their first pick (trying to put my own will aside a bit more based on my retreat!) and ended up being asked to preach for today's Good Friday celebration here at St. Aloyisius Church here in Sevenhill. This is more or less what I said... please feel free to use it insofar as it is helpful for your own Easter reflections.
Jesus- The Crucified One
The Scriptures present many images of Jesus for us to relate to, many of them especially familiar to folks living in the country, as we are here in the beautiful Clare Valley. Living with drought as you are, and knowing the preciousness of water for your crops and livestock, maybe you recall the image of Jesus as the Living Water. (I noticed a young man wearing a Guinness t-shirt advertising the perfect pint, so suggested that this is not the kind of thirst I was talking about) I am talking about the thirst we have for meaningful lives, for a sense of being valued, of belonging, for refreshment when we are wearied by life and feeling interiorly dry. So, we can relate to Jesus, the Living Water.
And as many of you work with livestock, or drive by these fields and pastures every day, you may be familiar with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him. And we long for good shepherds, leaders of integrity and great concern for others, those who will lead us to green pastures and restful waters, and who are willing to put their lives on the line for us. We know Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
And how could we be in the Clare Valley, this lovely winegrowing region of South Australia, without remembering Jesus, the True Vine. Jesus, the True Vine and we the branches, bearing good fruit in the world through our lives of compassion, justice, and reconciliation... lives occasionally pruned for the sake of our bearing even greater fruit.
We can relate to these images of Jesus, but how do we relate to the image of Jesus lifted up for our attention today, Jesus- the Crucified One?
When we pause to think of it, we might ask ourselves how it ever came to this anyway? How could the life of the one we love, the one we call Lord and Savior, have ended this way, in a death more horrible than we could imagine. We wouldn't dare treat an animal the way he was treated this day.
This is Jesus, born in Bethlehem, son of Mary and Joseph, the Carpenter from Nazareth... he was the one who taught in a new way and whom crowds of thousands followed in anticipation that he was the Messiah. He healed sick people, cured the lepers, gave sight back to the blind. He brought promise and hope, and we believed he would be the one to set us free from the political occupation by the Romans. This is Jesus, the friend of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the Master of Simon Peter, James, and John.
If before the Cross we find ourselves confused, disoriented, ashamed and sorrowful, then we are on good ground. Because signs of contradiction are confusing. The Cross is a paradox, a coincidence of contradictions and the collision of opposing forces. Such a paradox is bound to disorient us as we wrestle to make meaning of it, and only through grace does it gradually disclose its truth to us.
The two forces that collide in the Cross? First, there is the Force of Life... God's saving initiative to innaugurate a new covenant of friendship with humanity through Christ. In Jesus, God self-communicates that the Divine Nature is love, and that God desires us to receive that love in order bring us into the Fullness of Life, one and all. This is the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus lived and died for.
But if one of the forces is Life, the other force opposing it is characterized by resistance, rejection, and Death. This is the force we experience when we cling to our false images of ourselves-- that we are somehow greater or less than we truly are, that we can live self-sufficiently, that we come first... it is to cling to relative goods as if they were absolutes, so that we cling to power at the expense of the weak, and of our own vulnerability; so that we cling to possesions for the false sense of security and prestige that they afford us at the expense of the poor and our dependence on God; and we cling to popularity in the eyes of others, often at the expense of our own integrity and exclusive of those who do not meet our standards.
These two forces collide on the Cross as Jesus, the Beloved of God, and the Fullness of Life he offers is rejected.
But in this collision of contradictions, the Good News is that the Father is faithful to the last to his beloved, who was obedient to the death. God loves us despite our best attempts to push God away, and continues saying from the Cross, "I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you."
In a few moments, we will have an opportunity to venerate the Cross, this most full expression of Divine Love. Perhaps as we place flowers at the foot of the cross and kiss the foot of Jesus, or kneel before him, we might consider, what part of ourselves do we need Jesus to bear on that Cross. What part of ourselves, like the grain of wheat, must be allowed to die in order that God might bring about a more full and abundant life in us?
Perhaps it is a story we tell ourselves about who we are in relation to others that gets in the way of our realizing our God given gifts. Maybe we hold an old enmity that we need to surrender. Maybe we feel cynical about the future and do not give God room to suprise us. Maybe we have convinced ourselves that we are self-sufficient, thank you very much, and don't need God to come tampering with us. Whatever we might be clinging to might be beautiful and good in its own right, like these flowers, but it is not the ultimate good that the Giver of Life is.
And so, as we surrender this part of ourselves to death with Christ, we can be confidant that we will rise with him renewed this Easter...