Let It Come (Homily)
March 25, 2005
Most of us wear a crucifix, and there’s probably one on the wall at home, maybe one hanging from our rear view mirror. There are crucifixes all over our lives.
And yet sometimes I think we should be wearing circles instead. Little gold or silver rings. Because a circle is closed. A circle is turned in on itself. Or we should be walking around with just one beam of the cross, like a club to hit people over the head with.
There certainly shouldn’t be a body on our crosses. No flesh and blood.
Because when Jesus is nailed to the cross, today, at this hour, he spreads his arms wide, he stretches them out as far as he can, he is entirely and completely open, and we hardly ever are. We are hunched over. We are turning away. We are making a fist.
Jesus is opening his arms.
We read the Passion and we hear it every year--we hear it twice, once on Palm Sunday, from one of the Synoptic Gospels, and once now, on Good Friday, from John. We think we know it, and yet do we?
Jesus doesn’t attack the people who are torturing him today, he doesn’t attack the disciples for their lack of faith, he doesn’t line up all the good people on one side and all the bad people on the other. He opens his arms. He spreads his arms wide. He accepts what is happening to him, he gives into it, so completely he almost seems passive, almost weak, and in a profound way he is. He is God dying. He is all power spending itself. He is absolute weakness, absolute nonviolence. When he is struck, he doesn’t strike back. When he is judged, he doesn’t judge in return. He is silent, in fact. In the end he is absolutely silent. He’s not debating. He’s not caught up in theological argument, trying to score points and be right. “What is truth?” Pilate asks, and Jesus himself, who is the truth, who is the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus himself doesn’t say a word when that’s all we ever seem to be doing.
All we ever seem to do is argue and fight. All we ever seem to do is talk--I’m so tired of hearing the word “truth”--we’ve used the word “truth” so often lately and in such sinful ways I think we shouldn’t use it anymore. We are always talking to dominate, we are always using language as a form of violence, and when the words fail we start using our bodies and our tanks and our planes. And judgment? Condemnation? That’s what we do best: label people and blame people and decide they’re not nearly good enough.
Jesus is radically nonjudgmental, Jesus is radically nonviolent, Jesus is radically nonverbal--his arms are open wide--and he is unafraid: unafraid of suffering, unafraid of death. He doesn’t try to avoid it, he doesn’t try to get around it, as we always are.
It’s true that in the garden at Gethsemane he asks for the cup to pass if that is the will of the Father--he sweats and weeps--he sweats blood in Luke’s account--but that’s the version of the Passion in the Synoptics. John doesn’t talk about the agony in the garden, doesn’t emphasize the suffering of Jesus in that way. The Jesus of John is calm and tranquil and triumphant--he doesn’t cry out from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”--and in any event, in all four of the gospels Jesus does the will of the Father, freely. He plunges into the darkness, he takes the leap into nothingness, completely.
Not us. We’re always trying to explain suffering away. We’re always just looking at the bright side. We’re always trying to keep things simple. And in the night, when we wake up and it hits us--we are mortal, too, we are temporary--we’re so terrified of the truth that we push it away again. We take a pill and go back to sleep.
We are all weak. We are all afraid. Each of us here brings a sadness, a grief, a fear. And it hunches us over, it pulls us into ourselves. It’s so hard to spread out our arms. It’s so hard to let go, to welcome what we cannot change, to embrace the world the way it really is.
But that’s what Good Friday challenges us to do: to actually be Christians. Not to look away. Not to pretend.
And it doesn’t just challenge us to do these things, it gives us the grace to do these things. It doesn’t just indict us, it empowers us. We can’t do it alone. We are none of us clear enough and grounded enough and strong enough to open our arms and accept those nails. But because Jesus did, because of what happened at three o’clock long ago and is happening again, there is another power that comes, there is another love, there is another hope. The open arms of Jesus are also an embrace, as a mother embraces her child. What the cross embodies isn’t just the acceptance of death but its reversal, not just nothingness but an astounding compassion. Whatever our private sorrow at this moment, whatever our silent grief, it is now taken up and listened to and known. It is now made meaningful. That’s why we can escape from our little circles, because God has first broken in. We can spread out our arms as Jesus spread out his because the Father is present after all, the Father is really here, in all his mastery and his tenderness, even in the depths of our suffering and maybe even especially there.
Whatever your private sorrow right now, whatever grief you bring, don’t turn away from it. Don’t expect it to disappear. It’s real. You have to endure it, as Christ did, and does. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion, however hard we try. The world is far more complicated than our rosy pictures of it. But let us all take energy and confidence and good humor from this tranquil and triumphant Jesus of the Gospel of John, the Jesus who is so radically open, so completely and absolutely accepting of what is happening to him, who doesn’t judge, who doesn’t fight.
Because he knows. He believes.
Somehow, in some way we can never understand, all this matters, all this means something, all this will come to good. It will work out. It will end. It will lead us to the kingdom, and we are already there.
Open wide your arms.
Let it happen. Let it come.