On Good Friday we hear Jesus say:
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
Today what was before us is gone, and now we begin anew.
When I was growing up in the 60’s, I went to a more old fashioned church, a mission parish, very tiny, and traditional. The changes from Vatican II trickled in, but I have very vivid memories of Latin masses, incense, the works. Yet it was not a strict and scolding message, which many others may have heard. Yet, I was told that Jesus died for my sins. Mostly this made me feel weird; I would want to ask what I was supposed to do about that. I did feel badly, because I had appropriated that we are all bad at some level – but I was also assured of the love of Christ, so somehow it was more balanced
Now I recoil at the punitive message that some Christians, Catholics included, that Jesus died for my sins. Yesterday I even saw a bumper sticker with font that emphasized those words, “Jesus died for YOUR sins!” Yikes. No wonder people run away.
Yet – Jesus did indeed do just that.
Now being a self-focused people we love to make things about ourselves. Imagining a Dana Carvey church lady moment, in my head I hear, “Hmmmm, you are just a bad person! Tsk, tsk! Jesus died for your sins, because you ______ .” Go ahead, fill in the blank. “Oh Jesus, I’m so bad, I lied, and I manipulated certain circumstances, and I cheated, and I…. ” We can all say that. But sometimes I think we get caught up in some obscure details, for example – lying. Let me say that I have told a big lie. I go to confession, I say that I lied, and then I do my penance. That was the “old days” anyway. Today, a good confessor will probe a little, stirring up the murky waters of my conscience, asking what that lying might be about. Now we are getting somewhere. Lent offers us that opportunity every year, to really dig deep, not for the purpose of guilt and self-flagellation, but for examination and healing. It is not so much the self-obsessed gaze of I’m bad, now I’m good, but rather for the transformation of the self for the purpose of healing the world.
So what does this have to do with Easter? Can’t we get on with our Alleluias and eat our chocolates?
Jesus said on Friday, “It is finished.” It being his work, his offering, his turning over of his life and will for the world. Whether or not we accept it, the truth is that Jesus saved the world in that moment. This does not mean you can do what you want. Well, you can do what you wish, we have free will, but what we each do impacts the world around us. Before Jesus ultimate self-giving and transformation that we celebrate today, things were not so clear. Now they are, we are no confined to a life without God in eternity, but rather we are fully gathered into it. However, there is a catch….
I know what you’re thinking, “Yes, of course there’s a catch. So much for unconditional love!” Well think again, the only catch is this, that we respond to the offer. To be gathered in, we are asked to respond. Moreover, we do not respond for ourselves, but for the greater, common good. It is not “Phew! I’m in!” It is more like this, “I don’t want to be saved without you.” Maybe that is what hell is, a kind of isolation chamber, removed from God. Salvation is communal and depends on what we begin on this Easter, or on any day of our lives.
It is a little long, but I would like to share a few (disconnected) paragraphs from Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi for this Easter. He can say all of this better than I.
“This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.
That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.
With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!
Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.
Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.
By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future. On this day, may they be able to proclaim, as brothers and sisters, that Christ is risen, Khrystos voskres!
Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace! (find the full text here)
Today we walk from darkness into light with the Risen Christ. What was finished for each of us on Friday? And more importantly, will we begin today? Whatever it is, may we finish and throw off the chains of old messages of guilt without also throwing off the need for honest self-examination and change. May we finish our selfishness, realizing that our beloved “freedom” comes at a cost, as does our every comfort and convenience. May we finish the darkness of our hate, and welcome the blinding light of love that is the Risen Lord. May we finish whatever it was that we were doing, and may we open our arms as Jesus opened his in both death and life. It is in those open arms that we embrace his peace. And with that – we begin.
Alleluia! Christos anesti! Christ is risen! Blessings of Easter to all!