The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Good Friday—Year C; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
There is no way to wrap our minds around this day. There is so much going on. A stream of events that lead to an inevitable end. Betrayal, denial, political hot potatoes, everyone wants action, no one wants to take responsibility. There is genuine wrestling with who this man is, question upon question, and answers that only lead to more questions. There are crowds that turn vicious. There is thirst. There is surrender. And those haunting words, “It is finished.”
What is finished on this day?
Wars still rage in Syria and Africa and a thousand other unnamed places. Those hungry for power and filled with hate still unleash terror on innocents in airports and subways and marketplaces. Violence still sends immigrants and refugees running for their lives. In our own country, words are hurled like grenades, and anger is spilling over everywhere. The world is divided into “us” and “the other,” and“the other” is to be feared. People still thirst—for justice, for work, for shelter, for food, for water itself. What is finished?
This story we tell today of events 2,000 years ago could just as easily be the headlines we woke up to this morning. And it’s so tempting to distance ourselves from these unthinkable actions, but we separate ourselves out from these actors at our peril. I am reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
This day brings us face to face with ourselves. We are convicted at every turn.
But this day also brings us face to face with God and convicts us at the deepest level, and not in the way we might think.
This isn’t about how awful we are as human beings, and how God needed the sacrifice of his beloved Son to set the scale right. This is about seeing Love Incarnate absorb every last act of violence into his being—all the words, all the deeds, all the manipulations, all the terror and fear, all the injustices and indignities—Jesus absorbs them all. He doesn’t resist. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t fight back. He doesn’t appease. He doesn’t freeze. He stretches out his arms and embraces all that humanity could throw at him. He holds it in love until there is no life left in that violence. And as he breathes his last, he knows, “It is finished. It is complete.” Through him, Love has gone to the depths of hell and filled every last space of our limited, broken human existence with the Love that passes human understanding.
Human beings will go on being the limited, broken human beings that we are—we are still living Good Friday every day, somewhere in the world, and yet, something did get finished on that first Good Friday.
What got finished? The myth that God has forsaken anyone. Wherever there is suffering, wherever terror strikes, wherever bombs explode, wherever injustices are perpetrated and indignities are suffered, wherever mothers lose sons, and beloveds are rent asunder—God is there. God has stretched his arms out on the hard wood of the cross, so that we never have to bear the weight of our crosses alone. That doesn’t make it hurt less when crucifixion comes to us in all the ways that it comes, but it does mean we never have to make this journey alone.
What got finished? The myth that violence is redemptive. Jesus absorbed the violence so that we could see another possibility beyond the never-ending cycle of retaliation, so that we know that, while violence may appear to win in the moment, the transforming power of Love wins in the end. The world may try to seal that Love away, but the tomb just won’t hold.
As you lay your life before this cross this morning, what does it finish for you? What hard places in your own life are longing to know the depths of this Love? What violence in your own being needs to be left here, nailed here, held here, loved here? What violence in your being needs to be finished? What changes for you if you dare to believe that God has inhabited every last forsaken place in your life?
“It is finished.”
Gaze upon this cross, until you release the breath you’ve been holding, and then fall into the arms of the Love that refused to let you go. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 25, 2016