Holy Friday (2017)

“Even though he was crucified in weakness, he lives through the power of God!” (2 Corinthians 13:4, EOB)

 

On many occasions in the Old Testament God appears to have human attributes, human emotions, human limits.  God takes the dust of the earth to fashion human beings and breathes into the dust of the earth to create life. God walks in the Garden of Eden. God is saddened by human evil and grieves over having created humans. And while we who have sophistication today realize God doesn’t have hands and feet and lungs nor eyes and ears, we also realize that all of these primitive anthropomorphic descriptions of the invisible, incomprehensible, and ineffable God, prepared us humans for the incarnation, when God in fact took on flesh and became human. Not just any human, but perfect human. He became what we are created to be.  And, as a human, our God takes upon Himself our mortal nature, dying on a cross for us.  Holy Friday is the day on which we contemplate God’s love for us.  God endures everything we have to endure in His creation, including suffering and death.  Divine Love knows no limits, descending not only to earth but into Hades itself to restore life to all.  With His death on the cross, God shows His love for us is complete, total and absolute.

It is finished!

Finally finished and finally completed.

Finished and completed: “Behold the man” (John 19:5), the true human being, the image of God, the one who loved us till the end, even if I do not know him and do not comprehend him.

Among the gods there is not like thee O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works (Ps. 86:8).

God’s ways are past our understanding, shattering every constraint that limits our feeble imagination.

Christ shows us his divinity, not in a superhuman–inhuman–manner, but as truly human, human in the end common to us all.

Put to death on the cross, he yet voluntarily laid down his life in love for us, showing us what it is to be God in the way that he dies as human, for us.

And so, for us mortals, he opens up the possibility to share in his life, to live the life of God himself.

If he had shown us what it is to be truly human in any other way, what part could I have had in it?

But by his death, his life lived for others, a path of sacrifice and service, in his love and compassion for us, he has shown us a more noble way still, beyond our self-aggrandizing aspirations and merely human projections. And this life has led, as it must to the grave; yet it is not bound by the tomb.”   (Fr John Behr, The Cross Stands while the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, pp. 66-67)

God became human in order to die for us on the cross, to descend to the place of the dead in order to destroy death.  What we truly commemorate and celebrate on Holy Friday is not only the death of the Son of God, but the death of death itself.  God overthrows the tyranny which Death claimed over humanity.  

Advertisements

Holy Friday 2016

On Great and Holy Friday, we encounter Christ our Lord,  as our servant, bearing our abuses, carrying out all the work needed for our salvation.  He humbles Himself to serve us and save us.  On Holy Friday we stand in awe of the God of humility and suffering, whose love knows no bounds.  Poet Scott Cairns expresses our understanding so well:

“Bearing our curse, becoming sin,

You loose us from both the burden

of the law and from our lawlessness.

 

You bruise the serpent’s head,

and snatch us from its grip. You open

the way to resurrection, shattering

the gates of hell, You slay the one

who held death’s power, give comfort

to those who honor You. You give the holy cross

by which our enemy is slain, by which

our life returns to us abundantly.”

(Scott Cairns,  Love’s Immensity, pp 31-32)

We should feel unsettled by the Cross – it is the price God pays to have us be with Him.  It represents a depth of love which is hard to imagine.  It reveals God to us in the most mysterious way.  The cross of Christ reminds us of this truth, expressed by St. Theophan the Recluse :

“There is but one road to the kingdom of God – a cross, voluntary or involuntary.” (in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p 231)

Previous: Holy Thursday 2016

Next:  Holy Saturday 2016

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.