Homily for Good Friday, Year C 2019
The Church is literally naked. No flowers! No decoration of any sort. The sanctuary and the Altar have been stripped of their beauty. They stand empty. The realities of nakedness and emptiness confront us as we celebrate the Passion of the Lord. They are sudden, unusual. But they immediately evoke in us the memory of the Fall, where the word naked was first used – “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7).
What opened their eyes? The consequences of their distrust, disobedience and pride. Suddenly, the beauty of their humanity is gone, and man’s inhumanity to man began to manifest itself in all its cruelty and ugliness. They realised who they were not – inhuman. They also realised they were empty of true humanity. When Life is without God, without the Word and the Spirit, Love is empty of kindness, compassion, justice, peace, joy etc. For love is natural to humanity.
So, the naked Church, the empty sanctuary tells our story. They tell the story in a dramatic way that draws us not to ourselves, but to the Man who hangs on the Cross. He is naked. Reflecting on the Cross our nakedness. “See”, He seems to say, “what your actions and inactions have done. They have stripped you of the beauty of humanity. You can’t trust because you are not truly human. You can’t forgive because you are naked. Your sins are all you see”.
For true humanity bears God’s Image. It is the reflection of the goodness of God. It is self-giving. It is love, willing always the good of the other. Thus, there is no humanity without God. This isn’t surprising as the evidence in society is telling. The more godless a society becomes, the more inhuman it becomes. Auschwitz and Hitler, godlessness and concentration camps, go together. But why on earth would a person crucify another if not out of the lack of true humanity?
St. Thomas Aquinas sums this up with one word, “evil”. Evil is the lack of the Good – the lack of God. It is the lack of true humanity. The Good on the other hand is the presence of God, the presence of true humanity. He goes on to speak of the Good as donum, gift, present. It is the gift that is given freely without any expectation of benefit. It is given because it is in the nature of the Giver to give. So, on the Cross, we find Christ giving, willing our good, that is love.
Love therefore becomes the answer to evil. St. Paul puts it this way, “love overcomes evil”. And this is possible because love is God and God is love. So, the Cross which was an act of evil in the ancient world was overcome by love and transformed into an emblem of love and redemption. Thus, He freely carried the Cross in procession as a king processing to His throne – Calvary where He reigns. The Cross, Love therefore becomes the language of the Kingdom.
This is what makes Good Friday Good. The day speaks love. It brings to life all the sayings and teachings of Jesus – “love your enemy, do good to them, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who do you harm”. All this He summed up in one sentence, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”. This is love, willing the good of the other; forgiveness of one’s enemies. And it is only a king who forgives his subjects and excuses them.
So, on the Cross, Jesus was saying, I am your King, follow me. Despise what I despised on the Cross: wealth, power, pleasure and honour. These things you use to fill your emptiness and to clothe your nakedness are illusory. See! They don’t last. They end up distracting you, corrupting your mind, making you reject God, and by so doing you forfeit your humanity. Despise these things so that you can love fully what I loved on the Cross: the will of My Father.
It is in the will of My Father that you will find true beauty, the beauty that clothes your nakedness. Paolo Sorrentino captures this very well in his movie The Great Beauty. For him, the Greatest Beauty was the ugly looking nun, who had given up her all in order to unite her will with the will of the Father. Though physically she was ugly, but she radiated the beauty of compassion that comes only from the Father. This is the beauty that glows on the Cross.
It is beauty that never fades. It transcends time and territory. No wonder Pilate wrote the inscription, Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. For indeed His beauty transcends the beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem and its Liturgy. It transcends the beauty of the Wisdom of the Greeks. It also transcends the beauty of the good order of the Romans. It is the beauty that radiates not from stained glass but from broken people and messy stories.
He hangs on the Cross naked. Gathering to Himself all the naked. Crying their cry, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me”. The cry of a broken heart. Perhaps, it is your cry. He can feel your pain, your wound and He expresses it in a very profound way. Again, He radiates the beauty of brotherhood. He is one with us even in our mess. He goes all out for you and me because we are His brothers, His sisters. He heals us, redeems us and restores our humanity.
Thus, on the Cross, we behold the Man who was truly human. And as the Israelites looked up at the Bronze Serpent, we should look up at the Cross for the healing of our broken humanity. Come venerate Him. Venerate your own wounds in His wounds. Die with Him on the Cross to man’s inhumanity to man. And rest with Him in the tomb as you look forward to the resurrection, when your body will be raised in His Body and shine in Glory. The glory that will fill our emptiness.
Fr. Francis Afu