25 March 2016

Homily for Good Friday

"Sacrifice in the Flesh"
John 18:1-19:42 & Luke 1:26-38

Listen here.

This single service called the “Holy Three Days”--Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter—is the most sacred time of our Christian year. This year Good Friday also falls on March 25, the day the Church also sets aside for the Annunciation of our Lord—the time when the angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary and announced that she would become pregnant with and give birth to the Son of God.

What a marvelous intersection of Jesus’ Birth and Death, of His taking on flesh and His offering the ultimate sacrifice! The very flesh and blood Savior conceived and born of Mary would reveal Himself as God’s great sacrifice in the flesh for you. The Son of God stooped down to take on our human flesh and blood for the express purpose of sacrificing Himself on the cross for you. Without His flesh and blood, He could not have suffered and died for you. And when He suffers and dies in His flesh given by Mary, He restores you, in your flesh, to life with God.

In the ancient world, people thought that a person died on the same day that he was first conceived. Instead of celebrating birthdays, as we do, they would mark the day that a person died and then say, “That’s the day, all those years ago, when Uncle Barnabas was conceived in his mother’s womb.” So the early church marked the day of Jesus’ death as the same day, 33 years earlier, when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. So, today we get to mark the day when He first took on flesh and blood along with the day on which He sacrificed Himself in the flesh.

On Annunciation Day we fix our eyes on the Virgin who conceived and bore a Son, and we call Him “Immanuel.” On Good Friday we fix our eyes on the suffering, suffocating, dying Son of God who is with us in our place on the bloody cross. Annunciation draws us to the fullness of time when God sent forth His Son, born of a woman. Good Friday shows us how He redeems us who are born under the law and how God adopts us as His heirs of His heavenly gifts.

God showed His favor to Mary as He prepared for His Son to be born. He shows you His favor through His Son crucified, dead, and buried. Mary was to name Him “Jesus” because, as He shows on the Cross, He saves you, His people, from your sins. Mary was promised that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever. You see that promise fulfilled as Jesus hangs lifeless on His cross-shaped throne, crowned with thorns, with the charge “King of the Jews” hanging above His head.

His tiny infant hands grew to bless and heal, to cleanse the temple and comfort the downtrodden. But then they received the piercing nails pinning Him to the cross in your place. His adorable baby feet grew to walk the dusty roads as He proclaimed God’s kingdom, to walk miraculously on the water as He rescued Peter from drowning, and, finally, to stomp on the serpent’s head by being nailed to a tree. His vibrant infant eyes once looked to His Virgin Mother in dependence and adoration, but from the cross He could only see the mocking gestures, the angry faces, and His God who had forsaken Him instead of you. At first, His mouth could only coo and gurgle, but then it would speak the great wisdom of the Triune God and His loving mercy, especially as it uttered those immortal and life-giving words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).

The security of swaddling cloths had to give way to the shameful nakedness of the cross, because our sin made us naked in shame before God. But wrapped in Christ’s blood, you have security in His forgiveness. The friendly wood of the manger had to give way to the hard, rough wood of the cross. It might seem like “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The sweet milk from Mary’s breast had to give way to the bitter, vinegar-filled cup of God’s wrath. It was the only way that you and I could taste and see that the Lord is good.

Mother Mary made sure to clothe Him as He grew up, but the soldiers made sure to strip Him bare as they lifted Him from the earth. But never fear: in your Baptism you are clothed with the robe of Christ’s perfect life. When Jesus was an infant small, His Virgin Mother held Him and tended His every need. But as He hung from the Cross, He tended to her need as He gave her to the Apostle John and gave John to her as a new son. Not only does this crucified Son of the Highest reconcile you to God, but He also reconciles you to each other and teaches you to sacrifice yourselves for one another.

When Mary took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised, she was told, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:35). But the piercing that saves you and heals you came when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side “and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn. 19:34). Yes, He, not His Mother, was “wounded for [your] transgressions” and “crushed for [your] iniquities…and with His stripes [you] are healed” (Is. 53:5). And long after Jesus last rested in the warm, tender embrace of His Mother, He finally rested in the cold, hard tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus’ rest in the tomb shows you that you now have rest with God.

When we celebrate the Annunciation, we hear Mary respond to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). When we celebrate Good Friday, we ponder the cruel blows, the mock trials, the contrived death sentence, the scourging that shreds His flesh. We hear the echoes of the nails being pounded into His wrists and feet. We hear the words spoken from the cross. We visualize the blood flowing mingled down, and we recall Him giving up His own breath of life. As we ponder these sacred events, let us also speak Mary’s words: “Let it be to me according to your word.”

And what does that Word say about a crucified and dead Son of God? It says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). It says, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). May God grant you the same faith that the Virgin Mary confessed. Like her, may you ponder and adore the Son of the Highest, especially for His sacrifice in the flesh for you.

St. Ephraem (306-373) teaches us how to pray, ponder, and adore on this Good Friday:
You love humankind, O Christ, and I glorify You for that. You are the only Son, the Lord of all things. You alone are without sin. You gave Yourself up to death for me, an unworthy sinner, the death of the cross. Through this suffering, You have delivered all human beings from the snares of evil. What shall I render to you, Lord, for such goodness?

Glory to You, friend of all!
Glory to You, O merciful Lord!
Glory to You, longsuffering God!
Glory to You, who takes away all sins!
Glory to You, who came to save us!
Glory to You, who became flesh in the womb of the virgin!
Glory to You, bound in cords!
Glory to You, whipped and scourged!
Glory to You, mocked and derided!
Glory to You, nailed to the cross!
Glory to You, buried and risen!
Glory to You, proclaimed to all humankind, who believe in You!
Glory to You, ascended to heaven! Amen.

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