Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 4:14 -16;5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42


April 14, 2006, Good Friday

One of the questions that people often ask is, “why do we call this 'Good' Friday?” As you can imagine, there are many different answers to this question but the one that I like the best is that it was originally called “God” Friday, and just as the God in “God be with you” turned into the “good” in good-bye, so the God in “God Friday” turned into Good. Most of the other explanations are variations on the theme that we call Good Friday good because on this day, Christ died for our sins. And no matter how this is expressed, it almost always comes out that Jesus, dying on the cross, stands between us and a God who needed to be satisfied for our sins. It was interesting to read all the suggestions people had for how to explain this to children. Some of the examples suggested were:

Harry Potter: Harry's mother threw herself in front of Harry and took the fatal spell that Voldermort intended for Harry.

Simba the Lion King: Mufasa, saves Simba from the evil plot of Scar and loses his life in the process.

You see in all these examples the one who sacrifices his/her life for the sake of a loved one is standing between the loved one and someone evil. I fear that in looking at the crucifixion we often cast Jesus as the savior who stands between us and a pretty evil God.

That is why I like to think of this as God Friday. I would suggest that in order for us to really understand how the cross brings about salvation we have to focus totally on the fact that the person hanging on the cross and dying IS God. It is God who is dying for us; not someone who stands between us and God. Or even someone who atones to God for us. It is God. This is God Friday.

Really? So how does that bring about salvation? In order to make sense out of this we need to remember something else: because God has given us free will and dominion over creation, everything that God does for creation, God does through human instrumentality. As Blessed Mother Teresa used to say, “We are the only hands and feet that Christ has on earth.” Of course that doesn't mean that God is not active in this plan for salvation; the paschal mystery we celebrate this Triduum is proof of that. God is actively bringing salvation to creation but in order to do that and still respect free will, God had to become human first.

Every time we picture the cross as Jesus taking the bullet for us, we tend to try to use Jesus' sacrifice to get God the Father to take away suffering: the suffering of an illness, a loss, a lack of something, or most of all, the pain of eternal damnation. But if the second point I made is true (we have been given free will and dominion over creation), then if we look to God to take away suffering, we are looking to the wrong person. We need to look to ourselves. We are the only ones who can relieve the suffering in this world. We have God's promise that we have been given everything we need to do that. But we have to do it.

As long as we think relieving suffering is someone else's problem, even if that someone else is God, we tend not to do anything about it. Suffering will not go away by appeasing a sadistic God, or by appealing to a hard hearted God, nor will we escape suffering by “being good”. As a matter of fact, thinking about suffering and God that way leads to atheism. For who can believe in a God who is all powerful and all loving and who can stop suffering but somehow fails to do so?

The only way that suffering becomes meaningful is if we use it to energize ourselves to wipe it out. Reflecting on the cross as God suffering with us reminds us that anywhere there is suffering, it is God who is suffering. Hopefully that leads us to feel solidarity with any who are suffering, and it is that solidarity that will move us to action.

We know that the cross is not the end of the story. In the end, the last word is not suffering nor even death but life, and life eternal. Just as it is God hanging on that cross suffering with us, revealing in stark terms that whenever there is any suffering, it is God who suffers with us, it is God who breaks out of the tomb on Easter, conquering suffering and death. So just as the cross calls us to share in the suffering of the world around us, the empty tomb gives us the courage and the strength to overcome that suffering. If that is what we focus on as we venerate the cross today, then this is truly God's Friday.

homily index