The Glorious Victory of the Cross
Good Friday Service, Year A
How can I best describe tonight’s Passion Narrative from the Gospel of St. John? If words are enough to describe it, it would be very similar to how survivors of COVID-19 from around the world would put it. As they have shared their experiences, three words resound, namely: FEAR, PAIN, and SOLITUDE.
Cardiologist Fabio Biferali spent eight days "isolated from the world" at Rome's Policlinico Umberto I hospital in an orthodontics department that had been converted into an intensive care unit. Describing the pain he felt as "strange," the 65-year-old said that it almost resembled having a little monkey on his back, just like one of his patients had described it to him. Oxygen therapy is painful and finding a radial artery is difficult, he said. "They would do it up to twice a day. Being a doctor helped me bear the pain. Other patients would desperately shout 'enough' 'enough'." The hardest part was the nights, alone with his fears. "I couldn't sleep, anxiety invaded the room... nightmares came, death prowled," he said. "I was afraid of dying without being able to cling on to the hands of my family and friends, despair overcame me."
In St. John’s long discourse of the Passion and Death of Christ, we can see a very similar picture. We can sense His fear, as He kneels to pray in the garden anticipating His horrific death. Also, as described vividly in the Gospel, we can almost feel His pain as He was scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, literally dressed down and treated like a criminal, then nailed to the cross as if we were there as it happens. Most of all, we can sense His solitude as He was denied, betrayed, and forsaken by the people who promised to stand by Him till the end. As though similar in its description, we firmly believe that Jesus’ passion and death were incomparable even to the most painful of all human sufferings (COVID-19 included).
St. John’s account of the Passion aims to increase our faith in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to return to His Father as He fulfills His mission. In this narrative, we find meaning in our struggles to overcome our sufferings (fear, pain and solitude) by identifying them after Christ. We follow in His footsteps to return to the Father’s embrace through conversion and healing. Healing from sin; healing from doubts and confusion with regards to our faith; and healing from useless anxieties caused by the pandemic. The prophet Isaiah says, “By His wounds, we were healed,” (Isaiah 53:5) And so, through Christ, our pains are overcome by His grace and power; our fears overcome by His intimate love with the Father, and our solitude consoled by His loving presence within and among us.
The last words of Jesus on the cross were words of comfort. They were invitations to trust and have faith in Him as our Savior. He is the sacrificial lamb, who let go of His mortal body so that our bodies may find salvation. Are we ready to “suffer with” Christ? Are we ready to take upon ourselves the cross of Christ? Can we remain strong in the midst of fear, pain, and solitude? Is our faith strong enough, to overcome the tests?
Two Fridays ago, to give his Urbi et Orbi blessing, amid the “rain,” Pope Francis in his homily said these comforting words: “We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”
There are now close to 2 million people diagnosed to have contracted the COVID-19. A great number has recovered, but most of them have suffered the ordeal of the virus. They could be anybody: our parents, godparents, brothers and sisters, the rich, the poor, public officials, homeless citizens of our country and even “front-liners.” Your sufferings are not in vain! Jesus once suffered for us to conquer death and to give us eternal life. If you so suffer, remember that you share in Jesus’ suffering. Amid fear, pain and solitude, His grace, love and presence will make you experience the glorious victory of Easter!