Good Friday-Archbishop O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Good Friday 2017

One of the principal parts of the Good Friday liturgy is the Veneration of the Cross, and, so, I would like to reflect on it with you for a few moments.

The cross for us is a religious symbol that we readily recognize; we associate it with beautiful, peaceful, church-like settings; we often wear it as jewelry fashioned out of silver or gold.  But, if we were the contemporaries of Jesus, we would be terrified of the cross, for it was a brutal instrument of torture and death.  It was meant to be terrible; it was meant to be humiliating – a horrible, public way to die – as we say “excruciating” ex crucis from the cross.

On Good Friday, the account of the Passion which is proclaimed is taken from John’s gospel.  And while he does not gloss over the horror and suffering of the crucifixion, he sees in the cross more than pain and defeat.  He sees it as the ‘hour’ for which Jesus has been preparing all his life.  St. John, in his gospel, does not see the cross in isolation, but looks backwards at it through the lens of the resurrection.

Without that perspective, the cross would surely be a tragedy and Jesus a victim, whose work on earth would have been a failure as even his closest followers deserted him.

In  the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul helps us to see how, even in all its horror, a saving work was taking place on the cross, and the reason is that, on the cross, Jesus was acting in such a way as to reverse the destructive power of sin.

”Christ Jesus”, says St. Paul, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

Bishop Robert Barron, in one of his talks, contrasts Jesus and Adam.  Adam, who was made in the image and likeness of God, seeks to become God, which results in the fall.  The self- elevation of Adam and all of us when we sin is countered by Jesus’s divine self-abnegation.  Jesus did not cling to his divine status, he did not reach up to grasp, but bends down in love and moves into our world of fear and sin and human dysfunction.  The painful degradation of Jesus on the cross, his self emptying, makes possible a new way forward for humanity.  Divine love on the cross absorbs our sin while Jesus’s resurrection gives us the promise of eternal life.

And, so, the cross, this terrible and brutal instrument of torture seen through the lens of the resurrection of Christ, takes on a new meaning.  It becomes the instrument of our salvation.

As a sign of God’s love, the cross is a powerful symbol.  Its vertical beam represents the reuniting of heaven and earth, of God and humanity; its horizontal beam, with Christ’s arms outstretched on it, signifies the reuniting of human beings who are the beneficiaries of that same great love.

Our Veneration of the Cross is meant to elicit our love in return.  This is how it brings about its healing effect, leading us to the realization that, despite our sins, our failings, and our imperfections, we are beloved by God; and, because God’s love extends beyond us to others, they should be the recipients of our love and concern.