Deacon Cornellís Homily


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


April 10, 2009 - Good Friday

Does anyone here remember the opening scenes of The Big Chill? Do you remember the music the organ is playing as the mourners file into the church? It is the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want. For those of you who might not be familiar with the song, the chorus is:

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need.

Of course the movie tries to portray that as somehow out of place in a church so that we will be shocked. But I would suggest that chorus of that song is right at the heart of our liturgy today.

We just listened to the story of the Crucifixion. Having seen The Passion of the Christ it is hard for me to listen without seeing those images of brutality in my mind. It is not a pretty story. But, as with any story, a lot of the meaning is determined by the listener as well as the teller.

So what kind of story did we just hear? Deacon Michael Bulson, in his book of homilies, draws on the 3 languages that the inscription on the cross was in to reflect on how different listeners might hear this story. The inscription was posted in Hebrew, Latin and Greek the Gospel reports.

To those who read the Hebrew, this was a puzzling story. The leaders of Israel had seen Jesus' miracle and heard him teaching. But these things were in conflict with what they expected of a Messiah. Where was the might? The political and military might? The freedom from Roman oppression? The restoration of the kingdom of David and Solomon? It made no sense to them.

To those who read the Latin, the Roman leaders and soldiers, the story is almost a comedy. Some nobody in a backwater occupied country claiming to be King? Other than an opportunity for a little cruel sport in an otherwise dreary occupation, it was barely worth noticing.

To those who read the Greek, it might have read like a tragedy. Their culture had introduced the idea of the tragic: an otherwise noble person with a flaw that causes his downfall. So here is a good teacher and healer with the tragic flaw of thinking that he was god. That flaw brings about his destruction.

And what about us? What kind of a story do we hear?

Listen to what the author of the letter to the Hebrews hears:

In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

How can the author of Hebrews say that Christ prayed to the Father who was able to save him, and he was heard? Doesn't the author know that Christ suffered and died? How is that being heard when Jesus prayed, "Take this cup away from me"? Our ability to understand that depends quite heavily on how we think about God. To understand the story as the author of Hebrews does we have to know that suffering does not come from God, nor does God promise to take away our suffering in this world. All suffering is the result of living in a world that is not yet saved. Sometimes it is the direct result of our own actions (or inactions). Sometimes it is the direct result of another's actions or some combination of ours and theirs. But sometimes it is the result of the corporate evil that exists in the world as the effect of generations of sin. But it is not from God.

What God promises is to be with us in our suffering; to actually suffer with us which is what being compassionate means. And to give us everything we need to turn this suffering into something beneficial for the world's salvation. I don't remember that very well when I am praying. I want God to remove this suffering, lighten this cross, spare me this heartache. I am right with Jesus in praying "take this cup from me", but when he continues with "but your will be done, not mine" I drop back away from that prayer. I want God to do my will. Can't God see how hard this is? Where is he when I need him?

God heard Jesus because of his reverence, and as a result Jesus was able to turn his suffering into the ultimate act of salvation for the world. God hears us as well, not because of our reverence, but because of Jesus. And as God suffered with his son, and gave him all that he needed, so he suffers with us and gives us all we need. Even when we feel, like Jesus on the cross, that God has abandoned us, God is there. Not to take away our suffering but to enable us to transform it into salvation, for us and for the world. That is usually the last thing I want to hear.

We can't always get what we want.
We can't always get what we want.
We can't always get what we want.
But, if we try sometime, we might find
we get what we need.

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