Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Hebrews 10:16-25
Psalm 22:1-11 John 18:1-19:37
“He said, ‘It is finished’: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“It is finished.” In three words we go with Mary and the disciples to a place of utter silence and profound absence. Silence that today’s Liturgy makes tangible. This is the silence you feel when the carpet has been pulled out from under you, when the breath has been knocked out of your lungs. It’s the kind of silence that leaves you asking, “How did we get here?” John, whose Passion we heard, begins his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
These are powerful words of hope, salvation, and reconciliation. They do point to what comes next in our liturgical calendar, Easter, but, today there is a pit where our hopes were. The Word is silent.
We know where this story is going. It is oh so tempting to treat it like a passing note on our way to the thick major chord of Easter Sunday; a little dissonance that will resolve itself in just a moment. We don’t even have to wait three days. The Vigil is tomorrow. But, Good Friday isn’t a passing note; some momentary discord on the way to harmony. On that first Good Friday and each one since, creation cries out. In the Synoptic Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the heavens and the earth are thrown off kilter. The sun’s light fails, the earth quakes, and the dead rise from the grave.
For Mary and the disciples this was not just earth shaking, but totally and completely devastating. There was no peace. There was no joy. Instead, they were confronted headlong with the duel demons of absence and silence.
Death has a way of distilling our lives. In his book My Bright Abyss, the poet and Yale Divinity School professor Christian Wiman tells the story of a famous author who is proud of his father for not falling back on religion on his deathbed. Wiman asks if is worth it to cling to beliefs that make us miserable or are inadequate in the midst of suffering- or great joy. He takes it a step further, “A Christian who has lived with a steady but essentially shallow form of faith may find himself called to suffer the full human truth of God, which is the absence of God, may find himself finally confronted with the absolute emptiness of the cross.”
Feeling abandoned and alone is likely a part of each Christian’s walk. In my own life I have had seasons of silence. Saint Ignatius called those experiences of silence “desolation”, a time when the “soul finds itself apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated as it were from its Creator and Lord.”
Desolation. It is a true part of the human experience, and today we find ourselves in a desolate place. The psalmist, prefiguring Jesus, cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Each in the course of our lives will likely feel abandoned by God. Sometimes it is through our actions, our complicity in the sin that put Jesus on the cross. "All we like sheep have gone astray." When we follow our own desires apart from God, we draw ourselves away. One day we may look up and it feel like God is not there.
There are also times of loneliness that aren’t our fault. Our church is full of people, myself included, who have struggled with depression and failure, and the isolation that comes with these. In the depths of the deafening silence, in our desperation we call out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our personal demons of depression and failure often whisper in our ears that we are all alone in our own personal hell. With the disciples, we look up to the cross and are overwhelmed by its emptiness, not as a symbol of triumph, but as a sign of our defeat.
But, if Jesus is who we say he is- that is God incarnate- then even in our isolation there is hope. The Isaiah passage we read is known as the “Suffering Servant.” In Jesus, Christians saw this suffering servant that Isaiah prophesied. We believe that Jesus is God incarnate, fully God and fully human. On the cross, Jesus feels the abandonment of God the Father. God knows us because God became one of us and knows the pain of absence.
In Christian tradition, after Jesus died, he descended into hell to free the souls of the faithful who died before Jesus life. Dante writes in the Inferno: “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” Lost and alone, he begins his journey into hell that will eventually lead him to paradise. Through hell, Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Early on, in Limbo, he asks Virgil “has anyone gone forth from here, either through his own merit or through another?” Virgil answers him, “I saw a powerful one come, crowned with a sign of victory.”
Today, we look up and see an empty cross. It is not empty because Christ has been defeated. On the contrary, Jesus is moving. He is working to draw us out of ourselves, out of the hells we find ourselves in, and into what T.S. Eliot calls:
“…a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation…”
We are not condemned to spend our lives in our own hells, but live in the abundance and fullness of Christ. The Cross is empty, Today we are weeping in the silence of Christ’s absence. We still have a long and dark night ahead, but joy comes in the morning.