Holy Friday (2015)

On Holy Friday, God’s plan for the salvation of the world is revealed. The mystery hidden from all eternity comes to light. And we see how God’s ways are not our ways.   St. Paul in his letter to the Romans shows how unlike the Roman Empire is God’s plan and Kingdom in dealing with enemies. The Roman Empire was the model of overwhelming government and military power to whom everyone had to submit.   The Empire was merciless to its enemies.   St. Paul in his letter to the Romans shows how God’s Kingdom is not of this world – for God deal with His enemies by dying on the cross for them.

“[St. Paul’s Letter to the] Romans holds up the promise of reconciliation with those it has cast as unrighteous. In distinction to the Roman ideology of violence where the impious are conquered and vanquished by the divinely established Romans, Paul invokes the image of the Son who gives his life for the ungodly (5.6–9). There is no war to win peace, but a death for all. Jesus, though ‘righteous’, dies for ‘sinners’ (5.8). Salvation from the wrath of God is not through obedience to laws and decrees, nor a pacifying war or threat of violence, but through the reconciling death of Jesus (5.8–9). … in Romans Paul places before his listeners’ eyes the image of self-sacrifice. Jesus gave himself unto death for others ‘while we were enemies’ (Rom. 5.10).   . . .

Paul’s model of reconciliation inserts itself into such notions of the noble death. Christ dies for enemies, and gives himself though without fault to die for sinners, that they might be free from the bondage of sin and death. The strong giving himself for the weak, the righteous for the sinner, invokes again the reversal of normal expectations of the vanquished seeking reconciliation with the triumphant. Paul’s paradoxical motif of reconciliation reverses this honorific code and as such belongs to the other paradoxical notions of a defeat as triumph explored above. The peace that Jesus offers is not then the violent peace of Rome, but a peace based on grace and divine self-giving. Here, again, iconography is important. The force of the reversal Paul invokes gains its force from a clear view Paul can assume his listeners know from the signs of imperial presence all around them: pictures of the violent pacification of Rome’s enemies as a sign of the blessing of the gods.”   (Harry Maier, Picturing Paul in Empire: Imperial Image, Text and Persuasion in Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, Kindle Location 1979-1988 and1999-2006)

Even today people believe in military power as the only way to establish peace on earth. The Islamic State for example believes peace on earth is only possible when Islam has militarily conquered the rest of the world and established one world government – an Islamic state.  And some Americans as well seem to think our nation’s greatness lies only in its military strength.   Christianity on the other hand can point to the reality of its own history and how it conquered the seemingly all-powerful Roman Empire with the invincible weapon of the Cross.   There is a warfare which is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is the victory which Christ secures on the cross. Christ testifies against those whose way is evil, which is why they hate Him (John 7:7) despite His love for them.   Christ willingly dies for the sins of those who make God their enemy (Romans 5:10), and He dies to save even these enemies from both sin and death.

Repentance, prayer and fasting were the weapons of the early Church against the military might of the Roman Empire. Will we use them again in the world to defeat present day evil?   The victory we so need in the world is Christ’s, who has the power to overcome worldly powers as well as the powers of darkness.

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