Homily for Good Friday April 7 2023

Here on this day we call Good Friday, we find the characters of the story set in their places, like the actors in a play, frozen in the middle of a scene, or like pieces on a chessboard in the middle of a game.

At the center is our Lord on the cross.

To his right and left we see the thieves whose desperate and violent lives have led them to this time and this place, to share this hill with him. One of them is consumed with bitterness in his pain and despair; he hurls abuse at Jesus. “You say you’re God, do you? Why don’t you get yourself out of this place – and us, too, while you’re at it?” But the heart of the other thief breaks open at the sight of Jesus. Suddenly, he knows him. “Jesus, when you arrive in paradise, please, remember me.”

At the foot of the cross, a bare handful of people. And no wonder – it’s a dangerous place to be: Mary, his mother. Simeon told her that a sword would pierce her heart – but who can even imagine what she is suffering in that moment, hearing the last painful breaths of her son, watching his life ebb away. Beside his grieving mother is John, his young friend. Jesus asks John to be a son to Mary, asks Mary to be a mother to this young man he loves. Two other women stand in courageous solidarity with them: Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary’s sister-in-law, and Mary Magdalene, whose gratitude for Jesus’s healing overflows in her undying, fearless love for him.

All but three of the twelve disciples have scattered like chickens when the fox gets into the henhouse. Wherever they are, they are maintaining a low profile, staying quiet, keeping out of the public eye, filled with horror, confusion, dismay, fear. Maybe even disillusionment. It wasn’t supposed to go like this – was it?

Peter is in the courtyard of the high priest when he hears the cock crow for the coming of the new day, and suddenly he remembers the words of Jesus, “You will deny me three times.” After all his bluster and self-importance, he had panicked like a coward when people recognized him, when they knew his Galilean accent. We don’t know exactly where Peter goes, but we know that he is overwhelmed with sorrow, weeping bitter tears of grief and shame and remorse.

And then there is Judas Iscariot. We think of him as a villain, but none of his friends expected him to do what he did. He did enjoy his job of holding the purse strings so he could help himself to a coin from time to time. But now he finds himself facing the horror of a decision he can never un-make, an action he can never un-do. Now, too late, he sees the great evil he has done. Now, too late, he goes to the elders in repentance, but they want no part of it or him. He casts away the silver he no longer desires. But he finds no comfort in tears and remorse, as Peter does. He only finds despair, and in his despair he takes his own life. And then what? I, for one, am not willing to say that God, in his infinite mercy, did not accept Judas’s repentance, that he did not welcome Judas home, even in all his brokenness. Is it too late for mercy? Only God knows.

Pilate is standing uneasily off to the side. Even though he washed his hands of the whole affair, he knows full well that he is complicit in the murder of an innocent man – maybe even worse than that.

And back on the hill, keeping his distance from the stricken band of Jesus’s friends, stands the Roman Centurion. His eyes have been suddenly opened. He’s caused a lot of suffering in his time, he’s seen a lot of deaths – but never a death like this. Never. “Surely,” he says, “this man was the Son of God.”

Here stands the cast of this world-changing drama; here are the people who were present on this good and terrible Friday, each in a place of his or her own choosing. And now, we should search our own hearts; we should ask ourselves tonight: where do I find myself? Where am I standing tonight? Am I hiding in fear or discouragement? Am I grieving? Am I hopeful? Am I in great need of mercy? Look to the cross. You will find everything you seek there.

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