by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International
[Ed. Note: This is the eighth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]
Believers gather around the cross today. They listen to the stories from the Scriptures. These stories offer us a message that is new: suffering acquires meaning in God. Death never has the last word in Him. Through the suffering of Christ, God brings reconciliation for all. This gives many the strength to endure suffering, even today, and to look for a world where every tear will be dried and all the pain will have disappeared.
People can hurt others a lot
The memorial events marking the nearly seventy-five anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau and twenty-five years of genocide in Rwanda remind us again of the savagery that human beings inflict on one another. It is not that we need to delve into history for evidence of such brutality with current ongoing wars and totalitarian regimes which are always developing more sophisticated techniques of human torture and destruction.
What is new is that television and social media now brings the experience of such depravity from all over the world into the heart of our homes–where sometimes there is great cruelty already. Every day we are confronted with war and violence, with poverty, hunger and injustice. A great danger here is indifference or powerlessness.
One risk is that familiarity makes us almost immune to the pain of this indescribable suffering. It also means that the suffering of Jesus in his passion pale into insignificance by comparison with modern atrocities. But the core of the passion story of Jesus is not the intensity of his pain–intense though it was–but the person who endured the suffering and the love that motivated him to do so.
Calvary is not the end!
Life will continue. We will live on in our children. There is a new beginning. At death, the questioning can be sorrowful, somber and heart-rending. Why death now? What of the bereaved? The joyful anticipation is replaced with pain-filled loss and anxiety. Even in the presence of vibrant faith, there is often a sense of finality, of completion of an era.
This atmosphere of finality pervaded Calvary on Good Friday. Calvary seemed to be the end. Is this the last moment of life? Is death the end of life? The great hopes of a promising life were dashed. With hindsight, it was easy to see that it would end in this way if Jesus insisted on justice, forgiveness, love and peace. Now the miracle worker from Nazareth fails to come down from the Cross even though he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Dead he was now himself, the same as those who had gone before him.
But Jesus had the power to take up his life again. That he would do at the Resurrection, but first he would endure the intense pain of the human condition. He must know the loneliness of death first-hand, the sense of abandonment by God.
Death is where there is no hope
Good Friday shows that people without hope die in despair. A society or world without hope degenerates into humiliation, indifference, fear and violence. Only the person who is prepared to light a candle of goodness at every opportunity rather than curse the darkness of evil. Only the person who daily takes that first small step in building a chain of goodness. Only the person who believes that oftentimes a majority for hope is just one individual with faith and courage. Only the person who knows it is in giving away time, energy and even life itself that one comes to experience lasting love, human and divine. It is only such a person that can create new life and joy in today’s world. We are enabled by the Spirit to keep hope alive in the hearts of those whose lives we serve.
No matter how grim the suffering or bleak the future seems, the Father has a great dream for us which he will realise just as he did for his Son. Today’s message is not to be afraid: I have overcome the world, and so can you.
Presente! Consider the suffering of this time
For many years a quiet event has been organised by different solidarity and faith groups on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of many human beings and remember the misery of many peoples today. People come together in silence to remember those who are suffering, for those who have been killed yesterday and today in wars or other forms of violence and injustice.
Participants walk with crosses with names of victims of violence on them. This gives the victims a name and identity. Names of victims are prayed aloud one by one and those present answer each time with: Presente! It’s about people! They are not dead before God. The faithful walk from one religious or symbolic place to another. Along the way people stand still for a short reflection. They reflect on the suffering of today. It is also a public testimony to our faith. All people of good will are invited to join these events. It is the Way of the Cross today.
Let humanity speak!
Such an action is a powerful sign of solidarity with all victims of senseless violence. It is an act of resistance against all systems that prevent people from developing themselves in our own societies and elsewhere, not the least in the developing countries. Considering that suffering is a tender gesture of love for people who are in pain, who are sick, who are facing death. Let humanity speak!
All of Christ’s way of life is characterised by his gift to the utmost: the love for the enemy, the mercy for the neighbour, the infinite forgiveness, the unconditional faith in God, the constant prayer, the attention to the least and respect for the stranger.
On Good Friday, we see that Jesus’s choice for the poorest, the weakest and victims bring him into conflict with the powerful. They feel threatened and want him on the cross. The death on the cross in itself makes no sense. But death does not have the last word. Jesus lives. Life is stronger than death. God continues to choose for justice and love over death. No Good Friday without Easter. No Easter without Good Friday.