In silence we come to the Cross of the Son of God on this Good Friday. We do so by way of remembering. We cannot be there in the flesh, since it is all history. So in memory we come to the Crucifixion of Christ. Some people say that they don’t know how anyone could desire and carry out such a horrific act of torture. Such people have no real comprehension of who and what they have been and still are. They have not thought about what sin does. Sin, they forget, kills the Word of God in our hearts and those of others. By extension, sin kills God’s Wisdom, Power, and Love in our hearts and others. Today, before us, we behold the external and visible manifestation of what sin does. Sin in its various forms is nothing other than what abandons, betrays, denies, tortures, and kills God’s Word in human life. Pride, envy, wrath, resentment, bitterness, sloth, lust, gluttony are all those sins which kill God’s Word in Man’s nature. We don’t see that what they do is endured and suffered by the dying Son of God on the Cross of Calvary. Our sins have killed God’s Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Our sins kill that Word made flesh for no reason other than that we cannot get over ourselves for long enough to remember that we are sinners in need of a Saviour. In His Passion, Jesus endures the effects of our sins. What is the worst that our sins can do? Kill God’s Son, God’s Word made Flesh.
It is said that sin is the absence of God, and that is true enough on one level. But it is more than that. It is really the will or desire to make God absent or to eliminate His presence. It is the obstinate refusal recognize that God, His Word, His Spirit are always necessary to mere existence, to man’s conquering of nature, to man’s discovery of liberty and freedom. It is the hard-hearted refusal to hear, obey, cultivate, and grow God’s Word in human life, and most especially in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes it is committed quietly in the ivory tower of arrogant stoical indifference. Sometimes it is committed in fear, as when a man can only envy the presence and success of goodness in the world. Sometimes it is committed rashly, impetuously, feverishly, out of impatience, outrage, and fear as violent anger, resentment, and revenge. Sometimes it is committed slothfully to ensure earthly comfort, peace, and normalcy, simply because zeal requires sacrifice, effort, and patience. Or it might be committed by making false gods out of greed’s ideal, gluttony’s comfort, and lust’s fleeting passion. In whatever way it is expressed, it all adds up to one thing: despair. And despair is the failure to hope. The failure of hope is the refusal to believe that a person, situation, predicament, or condition can be changed. Despair is the refusal to admit that the Good might conquer evil, Love might banish hate, Beauty might vanquish ugliness, and Truth might overcome error. Despair then leads men to eliminate God’s Word from human life. Thus we find Jesus hanging upon the Tree of Calvary on this Good Friday. Jesus is the only perfect expression of God’s Word of Wisdom, Power, and Love made flesh that the world has ever known. And He reveals to us what we think of Him and His most Holy Incarnation.
But is this all that we find? No sooner had they arrested, mocked, derided, stripped, whipped, crowned with thorns, and nailed Jesus of Nazareth to the Cross than He was back to doing what He had always done, what He had come to do. Archbishop Fulton Sheen reminds us that, Seneca, [the great Roman Stoic Philosopher], wrote that those who were crucified cursed the day of their birth, the executioners, their mothers [for having brought them into this miserable world], and even spat on them that gazed upon them. Cicero recorded that at times it was necessary to cut out the tongues of those who were crucified to stop their terrible blasphemies. (Life of Christ, p. 372) Seneca ended up committing suicide, and Cicero was murdered, both because of alleged crimes against Caesar. Neither could have imagined that out of the death of a good man or from noble death something could emerge the likes of which we witness in Jesus. For here we find no resentment for ever having been born, no vengeful hatred of those who were crucifying Him, and no spitting upon those who wagged their heads at Him and those who said:
Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (St. Matthew xxvii. 40-43)
Rather, what we find is the One who looks beyond, behind, and even beneath the sin that has killed Him, to find the heart of man that is capable still of being forgiven and saved. In the hearts of those men and women who have willed His death, Jesus prays only for their forgiveness and eventual conversion. Jesus hopes. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii, 34)
Jesus is the Word of God that always creates and always redeems. He is the Universal Response response to all despair. That response is kind, compassionate, and merciful. He judges their despair as the birth-child of ignorance. For, had they known what where doing, they might not have done it. The Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, has perfect Hope for those who do not understand today, but may come to the knowledge and love of God tomorrow. For as long as a man lives, there is time for the discovery of true self-knowledge. With that, there can come a repentance for sin. Out of repentance can spring hope in the power of forgiveness. And the forgiveness of sins is not only what God’s Word is but more so what God’s Word made flesh came down to reveal and freely choose to embrace, even in the hour His own Crucifixion. Jesus Christ is God’s forgiveness embodied. Before He suffered this Passion, Jesus had told his friends, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father save through me. (St. John xiv. 6) The way to the Father is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the forgiveness of sins made flesh. It informs every fiber of His being, as the communication of God’s hope and love for His people. God never stops hungering and thirsting for the salvation of His people. Jesus, God’s Word made Man, is the embodiment of that love and that hope. Sin cannot silence the utterance of God’s desire in Jesus. Suffering and death can do nothing to stop God’s loving all men in and through Jesus. Satan cannot kill the Spirit of this Love. For within the heart of the dying Crucified One is the ability to pray for man’s turning to repentance, turning from his evil ways, and longing to be saved. The Word of God still speaks from the lips of the dying Son of Man. The offer still stands, the hope is alive, and God’s love is as determined as ever in the heart of Jesus.
God’s offer is only and always an offer. It is never compelled, cannot be imposed, and so can never be revealed as an Omnipotent Power that overturns man’s created potential to turn to God’s Love for deliverance.
Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove:/O no! it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/It is the star to every wandering bark,/Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken…Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom…(Shakespeare: Sonnet 116)
Love honors His potential lovers. That He forgives in the face of treachery and murder only stands to reinforce the transcendent nature of Love that longs to conquer all. The acceptance of Love as forgiveness of sins made flesh are in the power of the beloved.
So in Christ’s forgiveness we see the light that still loves. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (St. John i. 4) He prays for others and thus emits the light that hopes for their salvation and deliverance. This is why He came into the world. He taught us all how to pray, and told us that if we do not forgive others their trespasses against us, neither will our Heavenly Father forgive us our trespasses against Him. (St. Matthew vi. 15) Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest…Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. (St. Luke vi. 35-38) And so even now, Jesus asks for the forgiveness of His enemies.
Today, Christ the Word as the forgiveness of sins made flesh in Man is petitioning forgiveness for the Pharisees, the Romans, and for Peter our friend who has denied Him three times. Christ the Word as Love, Hope, and Faith in God is made flesh for us that we might be forgiven.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: