HOMILY FOR THE CHRISM MASS
WEDNESDAY, 31st March, 2010.
Background of recent times
As we gather in this Holy Week we are deeply conscious of concrete events of human pain and suffering, of abandonment and loss of hope. Whether for victims of abuse, perpetrators, as a people of God and ministers of Christ’s Church, there are times when we are puzzled and perplexed by the perception of the absence of God, while those who look for the coming of the kingdom are frequently deflated and despairing and yet in all of this we search for hope.
Holy Saturday Experience
In many ways our experience is that of the Holy Saturday experience, the experience of every generation’s suffering and grief, of death and hopelessness. As we focus on the three days of Holy Week, all the action and emotion belong to two days: Good Friday and Easter Sunday: despair and joy, darkness and light, defeat and victory, the end and the beginning, what we did to Jesus on Friday and what God did for him on Easter Sunday.
The tension of waiting in Vigil
Yet between the crucifying and the raising there is the time of waiting. A space dividing Calvary and the Easter Garden. This is where we interpret what happened on the cross, with the grieving farewells, shameful betrayals, guilty denial and agonising fear; the long dark day of pain and forsakenness, and the then the ecstatic day break of miracle and colour of song and new life, but in between there is a restless day of burial and waiting.
The Essence of Holy Saturday
Holy Saturday is empty void, shapeless, meaningless, a day of abject misery and forlorn memories.
Dwelling in the Holy Saturday Experience
It is understandable in our spirituality and our proclamation of the gospel that we would tend to rush the fences towards the resurrection, in a premature and often immature way. In the Apostle’s Creed however we say “Christ descended into Hell” – this expresses the fathomless depths of suffering that Christ endured on the cross and in his death.
Scriptural Insights of St. Mark
Mark’s gospel in particular takes pains to implicate all the personalities equally, with the exception of Jesus Christ, in the moral failure. There was the treacherous Judas, weak disciples, first asleep and then in flight; desperate priests and abusive guards; cowardly Peter and calculating Pilate, violent soldiers and jeering passersby; truly a solidarity in sin unites all those involved. It seemed as if Good Friday marked not just the last day for Jesus and the end of his hopes, but the last day for all hope.
Seeds of hope leading to New Growth
What faith hears in the Easter story and passes on to a sceptical world is that justice, forgiveness and reconciliation are not ideals or dreams but realistic facts embodied in Jesus Christ who lives now and reigns in victory. Suffering, pain and death are the marks of resurrection life, just as they marked the body of the resurrected Christ. The shocking truth is that the seeds of victory lie in the grave’s defeat, nowhere else; the only flower of victory is one that germinates and grows in the darkness of a tomb.
Waiting alongside the Tomb – struggling with Unbelief
On Holy Saturday we stand beside the grave of God’s own Son, contemplating the fact that the Son of God has refused to act divinely, to resist his enemies and ours but has let the forces of destruction overwhelm him. Unbelief states that the world is Godless and unjust, a place of lovelessness, iniquity and pain.
The experience of Faith
Faith, by contrast hears and speaks a word of promise – that nothing however evil, can separate us from God’s love so that the world’s sure destiny is peace and joy.
Love – the language of Faith
Love says “yes” to hurt and pain and sacrifice, accepting contradiction and rejection and thus meets opposition and negation with creative, life-promoting affirmation. The Christian message is one of scandal and surprise, visible only to the eyes of faith. God’s presence is directed not towards divine immunity from peril and pain but to solidarity with his creatures. Christ’s whole life was marked by servitude, suffering and surrender. Holy Saturday reveals the presence of God in the midst of great absence, the presence of divine love in and through emptiness, negation and God forsakenness.
Jesus in solidarity with us through the Cross and Tomb
What we have experienced in recent times no longer permits us to proclaim a gospel which bypasses the cross and tomb of Jesus as the places of divine suffering and death. God stoops to endure and thus to heal and conquer the most broken conditions of the human tragedy.
Paradigm of Exodus
Over the coming days we will be endeavouring to make sense of and interpret what happened to Jesus Christ and it’s relevance for us today. In the background of all of this is the event of the exodus. The exodus itself was a mighty act of divine liberation but it was not an end in itself, but brought further promises still to be fulfilled in the future. Before that fulfilment there lies a wilderness interim not only of expectation, but also of struggle, of suffering and receding horizon of dreams postponed.
Reflection on the Current Situation in Church and Society
All around us we see the loss of authority and of meaning, a collapse of institutions, the flight from public life and dissatisfaction with the world view. Naturally, change and renewal are called for, making this a time of waiting and suspension. For now however, dislocation, polarisation and negation characterise our situation. Holy Saturday denotes rupture and termination, a sense of darkness and disintegration and the loss of meaning, hope, and creativity. Our culture is to a significant degree a Holy Saturday society. Whenever marginalisation happens, as it happens today, through whatever causes, an opportunity arises for the Church to re-examine its identity as a Church of the cross, to ask if our preaching and ministry are truly conformed to the crucified Christ. Perhaps a publicly weakened Church may understand afresh that its first task is not to change the world but to be present in it, making its dwelling place with sinners and outcasts. Holy Saturday proclaims that God’s own true way to fulfilment goes through self-emptying and negation. In this way the Church of Christ engages the world, shares its pain and grief and guilt, its Godlessness and God-forsakenness. Holy Saturday demands the Church again die to itself, be crucified to popularity and trendiness and, overthrowing the cultural idols of relevance, effectiveness and growth, live solely with radical courage and faith in the power of God’s crucified and silent impotence.
Totality of Easter – The Paschal Mystery
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, a barrier which prevents an onward rush to victory and joy by interjecting a painful pause, empty of hope and filled instead with death and grief, with memories of failure and betrayal, of abandonment and anguish. There is no other way to Easter joy and victory, either for Christ or ourselves, than through sorrow and defeat.
Being ‘Rooted in God’ through faith
We learn from Jesus that our greatest triumph lies more in who we are than in what we do, in how we respond to others than in how they treat us, in our consistent attitude of prayer and forgiveness, rather than in their flattery and betrayal. We are given an opportunity to be ever more thoroughly ourselves, if we can remain rooted in God during all the passing, changing seasons of life. We will learn this depth of ourselves, only if we are emptied. We will gauge our strength and worth, not by surface accomplishments but rather by the underlying motivation.
Cross Leading to Resurrection
The essential paradox of Christianity is not precisely that Jesus just died and rose again; rather the eternal paradox is that only after the disgraceful kind of death Jesus suffered did God raise him to victory – that is Jesus’ human fiasco of rejection, passion, failure and humiliation – is forever a part of God’s revelation of his kingdom and our way of salvation. His cross is the clearest sign of Christianity and of God’s love. Without the cross, the resurrection of Christ might give us an understanding of God as triumphal, victorious and heavenly. But because of the Cross of Christ – along with his resurrection – we have God’s understanding of himself as a God totally involved with our suffering and sinful world, a God who is forever known as compassionate, forgiving and loving in the midst of all our human suffering and living. He does not do away with suffering, but shows us a way through it.
Easter Hope – Easter People
The empty tomb on Easter Sunday does not cancel out the cross or the occupied tomb but rather confirms beyond all earlier doubt that God was there, upon that cross and in that tomb. This is something which we must apply to our present situation in the Church.