Homily for Liturgy of the Word, Good Friday 2021 (Pat Vine)
I invite you to come with me back in time more than 2,000 years ago, to the Garden of Gethsemane outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Huge olive trees embrace the hillside. The outer bark of the olive tree trunk falls away while the inner bark is green and full of life. Fragrant bushes of the herb Rosemary grow wild in the garden. When you rub a branch of the rosemary plant, its wonderful aroma fills the air.
In a small clearing, we can see Jesus and his disciples. Jesus looks exhausted—He has just prayed to God and comes to realize the extent to which He is about to suffer, and this realization brings such stress upon His body that his skin oozes both sweat and blood that stains his garment. His disciples are rubbing their eyes and yawning and when He finishes praying, he finds them sleeping. They are not able to stay awake during Jesus’ difficult ordeal of prayer—perhaps they are exhausted, or on some deeper level sorrowful, or they are not able to face the difficulty Jesus is going through and they escape it by sleeping.
We hear the rustle of an approaching multitude and one familiar face emerges out of the crowd. Jesus recognizes Judas, addresses him as friend, and tells him to do what he came for. When Judas kisses Jesus, Judas marks the man whom the crowd has come to arrest. Jesus is arrested and the disciples are in dismay, trying to make sense out of what is happening.
When we humans feel threatened, our reflex is to go into a fight or flight response. One of the disciples immediately draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. This disciple is fighting against what is happening. He isn’t going to let his master be arrested. After all, his master is going to establish an earthly kingdom and overthrow Rome.
But when all of Jesus’ disciples assess the situation and see that they are outnumbered and in a no-win situation, they fear for their lives and every one of them runs away. They are not able to stay and see this crisis through with Jesus. The disciples flee.
The disciples succumb to a fight or flight response.
But as His disciples just did, Jesus does not fight what is happening nor does He flee from what is happening. Instead of fighting or fleeing, Jesus stays and experiences a whole range of feelings…
He feels anxious that his time has finally come. Having gotten words of knowledge from God about his impending suffering and death, and of agonizing about the reality of it in his prayer just before, the actual moment has arrived to put into motion the beginning of the end for Him.
Jesus feels frustrated when one of His disciples draws a sword and resorts to violence. He had just washed their feet to show them where real power lies.
He has feelings of sadness—“I have been with my disciples for three years and they do not as yet understand that my kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus feels betrayed by Judas, whom He calls His friend. Even though Judas does this terrible act, Jesus continues to love him unconditionally.
Jesus feels affirmed by the truth that legions of angels could come to His rescue, but He yields to what is happening so that the scriptures may be fulfilled.
And finally, Jesus feels hurt and abandoned by His disciples when they flee for their lives. He feels so alone.
Jesus’ response to these events is to become aware of, and to experience the entire range of feelings that arise in Himself…feelings of anxiety, frustration, sadness, betrayal, affirmation, hurt, abandonment, loneliness. Not only does He allow these feelings to surface, but He chooses to stay there—in that excruciating and difficult place—to feel what He is feeling and to yield to what is happening.
How do the responses of the disciples and of Jesus connect with you and me in or ordinary, everyday lives? Isn’t it true that not many a day goes by when you and I are faced with difficult situations? Perhaps a loved one dies…or a loved one is addicted or terminally ill, or suffering from depression…or I get the dreaded news from the doctor that I am terminally ill. Or we have a loss or change in our lives with the tough choice of how to navigate them? How do we respond to these real-life difficulties?
Do we fight against what is happening, like the disciple who uses a sword? Do we run away from what is happening like all the disciples do? Or do we become aware of what we are feeling in the midst of the difficulty, like Jesus does? And when we become aware, do we take the tremendous risk of feeling what we are feeling—helpless, or powerless, or angry, or sad, or afraid, or grief-stricken, or frustrated—do we stay in these feelings long enough to be open to the life-giving message they may have for us? Do we share these honest feelings with our God? Do we yield to the difficulty during those times when what is happening is beyond our control? (Pause)
Awareness…feeling what we are feeling…staying in that feeling a moment longer than we think we are able…reflecting on the message brought to us by the feeling…telling our God how we honestly feel—this is the place of extreme difficulty and of suffering—yet this is the place of fertile growth—this is the place where we connect with Jesus’ sufferings and become one with Him, remembering that death does not have the final word. Amen.
(There’s a Postscript to my homily. This is the same homily I gave 21 years ago on the Good Friday before Easter Monday, when our daughter Charlene sustained a snowboarding accident. I believe this was God’s way of preparing me to not fight or flee, but to stay with the host of feelings that came upon me when I heard the news that our daughter was paralyzed.)