By Rev. Heather J. Blais
Confession: I get impatient with church buildings and campuses, which can so often become idols that distract us from following Christ. And yet, this past Monday, my heart leapt into my throat when I learned of the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France. At the time it was still unclear whether the church could be saved. News and social media outlets exploded as people shared their pictures and stories of Notre Dame, as they mourned the potential loss of such iconic art and history. One friend said when the church’s spire fell, they were immediately taken back to the moment they saw the towers fall on 9/11. A former CNN correspondent, Frida Ghitis, wrote: “The massive, majestic cathedral looked like it had been there forever, and would remain until the end of time. If only for a moment, Notre Dame ablaze reminded us that we all share this world; that human history means everyone’s past.”
It is easy to forget that we are all connected as one human family woven into God’s creation. It seems as though it takes tragedies, wars, plagues, and feelings of outer darkness to remind us that we are in this life together, that we share a common history, and that any suffering and pain in this life is a burden we are meant to carry together.
Good Friday is just such a day. Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, beaten in prison, tried, and executed.
I’m not convinced it had to be that way or that it was by God’s design.
How easy it is for us, both then and now, to play the blame game:
Well, it was Judas, his own disciple who betrayed him…
...or, it was the Pharisees’ fault for being so resistant to change…
...it was really the temple police’ inability to stand up to their bosses…
...it was Annas, after all he sent Jesus to the high priest for further interrogation…
...no, it was Caiaphas; he is the one that suggested giving the Romans a scapegoat…
...well, really it was Peter, how could he have ever denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times…
...actually, at the end of the day, it was Pontius Pilate who gave the order…
...or it was the soldiers, after all, they are the ones that crucified Jesus…
...or it was the disciples who scattered in fear…
This list could go on, and on.
At the end of the day, there is no one person responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Nor, do I believe, that it was the plan of God to send his only beloved and precious child to the cross, as some final sacrifice that would allow the atonement practices of old to be fulfilled.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is known for saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” We also heard him say at the revival that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather selfishness. The opposite of love is not hate, but rather selfishness.
It makes much more sense to me, that the cross is not some perfect plan of restitution, but rather the result of our shared human selfishness. Every single person that I mentioned who played a role on the way to the cross, at some moment in that journey choose themselves over love. Love was just too great a risk to bear.
Yet those folks are not alone. Each of us at different times, has chosen ourselves over the greater well being of others. We have played it safe, we’ve taken the path of least resistance, we’ve done what we needed to do to survive. Yet those actions have also caused harm to those around us. Anytime we are selfish, there is a cost. Jesus of Nazareth’s execution was not any one person’s fault. It was the result of our shared human family choosing selfishness one too many times.
On this day, we remember the way of the cross. We remember an arrest, beating, trial, and execution of an innocent man who simply wanted us to choose love instead of selfishness. It is a tall ask, and it is our calling to wake up tomorrow morning and do everything in our power to choose to live a life of love day in and day out. So that we may share the light bearing, life changing, love and hope of God into our world and that we might draw upon that love as our human family faces tragedies, wars, plagues and feelings of outer darkness. Instead of letting those things overwhelm us, fear and shame us into complacency and inaction, we are being asked to choose the way of love.
As we prepare for tomorrow, about what it means to choose the way of love, let us remember what the great poet and priest, John O’Donohue wrote about resurrection:
“When the cross hits your life, a loneliness, a blindness and a darkness come all around you. Darkness and lostness are the worst parts of suffering. The wonder of the Resurrection is that this darkness was opened out and at the heart of the darkness a secret light was discovered. Each one of us who has come here hasn’t come to this place out of curiosity but we have come because we know the need that is in our lives and we know the frailty that is in our hearts and minds. We are strangers in the world. In our journey through life anything can befall us. It seems to be very difficult for us as humans to learn how to love, to learn how to let the fear and the resentment and the blindness fall away from us and to come into the special joy and peace and freedom of love. No matter how assured or competent we may feel, there is none of us who has not large territories of fear in our hearts, fear of sharing ourselves, of opening ourselves, of entering life. That is why we [will] come to an ancient holy place like this, before the dawn, to let the new tender light of the resurrection touch our helpless fear and transfigure it and open it into courage.”*
Let us come together tomorrow to find that secret light hidden in tonight's darkness. Amen.
*John O'Donohue from his Easter Homily at Corcomroe Abbey 1992. Included in "Walking on the Pastures of Wonder: John O'Donohue in Conversation with John Quinn".
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