As I begin to write these words I am very aware that perhaps the only appropriate stance before the mystery of this day is silence. Words seem so inadequate. There was so much noise on Calvary that first Good Friday; the shouting of the crowds, the agonized cries of those being nailed to crosses, the sounds of the hammers. Only Mary, Magdalen and John were silent. And Jesus spoke only a few words. So we also may want to stand before the scene first, in an attitude of silence.
In the silence the question may arise in our hearts, “Why?” Why did God let this happen to God’s beloved one? In fact, why has God let this happen to innocent ones down through the ages? Where is God as Jesus dies on the cross? Where is God as innocent children die in war zones, in earthquakes, in famine?
A response of God is suggested in our scriptures. We have as high priest “one who has in every way been tested as we are”. This high priest, Jesus, took on our humanity in its completeness. He took on all the consequences of being human; human joy and human pain, human fear and human desire, human freedom and human choice. And in this human condition Jesus was given a mission as God’s servant, to reveal to humankind who God is; a God who respects human freedom, a God of love, who forgives human sinfulness; a God who also can “sympathize with our weakness”, who, in fact, chooses the weak, rather than the strong. Jesus was faithful to his mission to reveal this God, and he met with fierce opposition from those who understood their task as preserving God’s position, and their own, as a God of the righteous, the law abiding, the powerful. In the face of this opposition Jesus remained faithful and determined. And he was killed for that stance. God did not intervene to prevent from happening to Jesus what was the consequence of Jesus’ being human, free and faithful.
Nor does God intervene to prevent from happening to us what are the consequences of our being human, free and finite. Our choices often bring to ourselves and others pain and suffering, not as part of God’s design but as a result of human weakness, selfishness and sin. To this condition of ours the suffering of Jesus brings new meaning. He made a promise to those who follow him. “I will be with you.” No matter what we suffer, whether we be innocent or guilty, the promise remains. Suffering and death no longer are the last word because Jesus has transformed them by taking them on. His life, death and resurrection has given us a way of transforming them as well. We are not alone for he is with us, remaining ever faithful to his promise.
As Jesus dies on the cross, John’s Gospel records, “And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” That spirit of faithful love, was poured out on those who stood at the foot of the cross and on all those through the centuries who have taken up their vigil there, revealing again the God who is love. We also, stand there, silently watching, silently receiving.
Miriam Cleary, OSU