Once again, we recounted Jesus’ Passion; this year, using the liturgy for the “Way of the Cross”. In a stepwise fashion, we immersed ourselves into this ancient drama, and at each step, made comparisons with our lives. Why do we revisit this frankly unpleasant story, knowing that this Friday is only “good” in a sense of “holy” (i.e., dedicated/set apart) and at all not “pleasant/beneficial”? Knowing that the evil that befell this one person 2000 years ago is quite commonplace, both then and now? Don’t we have enough hair-raising reports of what goes on in our world on which to dwell, and be sad?
The first reason is that it helped us draw the parallels between the ways in which Jesus was hurt – unnecessarily, unfairly, tragically – and the impulses that we may choose to ignore in ourselves. We all contribute in big and small ways to the totality of evil. Was Jesus’ death necessary? Did God respond to evil with violence, even as Jesus said “love your enemies”? I personally think that God did not send Jesus to suffer and die, but to demonstrate with his life the potential for the new existence to which we could not only aspire, but actually attain through walking with God, and striving for that mystical union of human and divine that we see in Jesus. However, this kind of life is offensive to evil; and so Jesus was killed. And not only him, but so many others suffer and die, and so many good intentions are squashed by reality. Who is to blame? If it isn’t God, maybe the Roman soldiers? But they were commanded by Pilate, pressured by the Jewish elite, fearing the fickleness of the mob... at which point did this all begin to go seriously wrong? There is no easy answer, as there isn’t a way to gauge the hierarchy of our sins – there’s only the hope that by coming back to life, Jesus overcame all evil.
And the second reason is that when we choose not to avert our eyes from the suffering of Jesus, we practice compassion; thereby, we become more like him. For everything he did was out of compassion, not the least of which was to become like us, at the mercy of evil, suffering as we do because of it. True love always involves sacrifices. We give up things for our loved ones, we see others giving up things for us, and we know that even fairy tales only end well if they involve self-sacrifice (including today’s Frozen, Encanto, and Moana!). How encouraging it is then, that God so wanted a real relationship with us, that he sacrificed his power, freedom, health, and life to be with us here, so that we may be with him forever in heaven. So let’s continue to pay attention to the moments when we and others act compassionately and sacrificially, and become reassured of our own special “powers” – like Elsa and other magical heroes possess – the gifts of God that make us not only truly human, but even a bit divine.
And precisely because we are aware of our special powers, even as we dedicate this day to accompany Jesus in his suffering, we already know that when he said “it is finished”, he did not mean “it is lost”. We know this better than Mary and John, the Centurion, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and a whole bunch of women, all of whom chose not to turn away from Jesus in life and death. So, as we go home, let’s begin to marvel at how the ending of this story makes a new beginning for us. But do not go too fast; let us not rush into the mystery of the empty tomb just yet.
Let’s not turn away too quickly from the pain and self-giving of our Lord, just as we must not abandon those who face suffering today, as difficult as it is to stay; for what else but our compassion will get them through the day? At the same time, let’s also reflect on some of our own experiences, when we thought that all was lost, only to discover that it was a gateway to something new and healthier (or remember how Casita fell apart in Encanto?) Let’s also think back to our liturgy: was there a station of the Cross that particularly saddened you, or convicted you of something in your heart? On the other hand, what are some of the crosses we must bear – whom are we still trying to forgive? Consider staying with these thoughts between now and Easter; not out of gloomy self-absorption, but out of gratitude for the permission to forgive yourself and others, just as God forgives and heals us. Finally, let us also consider what further changes and amends we might make to copy Jesus’ self-sacrificial attitude more often, and notice how God gives us the strength to do so. Perhaps, this will help us find this year’s Easter particularly personally significant, helping us to grow further in Christ. Amen.