Homily for the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney
Normally on Good Friday I’d be looking out at two thousand or so people packed into the pews of St Mary’s. But today I stand in an empty cathedral looking into a camera. Beyond the lens are thousands of you across the country, in a living cathedral made up of tv rooms and home offices. From there we unite around the cross as on the first Good Friday and around this altar with its powerful image of Christ in the tomb.
Whoever you are—Catholic, other Christian, another faith or just wondering—I say to you: in the suffering Christ, God is with you and for you, and by His wounds you can be healed. (Isa 53:5)
The “lucky country” Australia has fared better than most through this pandemic. But this Good Friday no-one’s exempt from some degree of suffering or anxiety. Some have died or are grieving, others are sick, isolated, afraid. Our work, shopping, leisure, worship—all have been affected. This year, especially, we see ourselves in the characters in Christ’s Passion story (Jn chs 18 & 19)—confused, frightened, hurting. Yet in them and for them something wonderful is being effected: we are being saved.
When I was growing up, the word ‘saved’ meant more than a catch or hit that clinched a cricket match, and ‘salvation’ wasn’t just a brand for those in uniform with a tambourine and a collection cup. But salvation talk is now out of vogue. We’re more into technology-driven ‘miracle cures’ than God-given ones. We expect science, government and industry to fix most things quickly. More intractable problems, like human nature and inhospitable climate, might take a little longer. What would we need God for…these days?
Well, right now many would say we need to be saved from COVID19 and in our solemn intercessions we will pray for just that. Yet overcoming the virus won’t fix all the problems it has exposed. R&D might address the physical sickness that presently terrifies us. But what about the moral sicknesses and death of sin and hell, the intellectual sickness of ignorance and cynicism, the emotional sickness of isolation and emptiness?
The recent crisis has demonstrated some of the best things about Australians, but also unveiled our ‘shadow side’. Think of the ‘World War Loo’ over toilet rolls. Or those hoarding pasta till their garages burst and enough minced meat to fill two freezers. Or those who think they’re the exception to all the rules for gatherings, distancing and hygiene. Or think of the culture of indignation that wags its finger at honest mistakes and is always on the lookout for someone to blame. Or of those willing to create a whole new class of ‘boat people’ denied landing for fear they’re viral.
In the end, what we most need to be saved from is ourselves—our blind patches, prejudices, selfishness. There’s a brokenness about things that’s often beyond us to fix. In our Passion narrative Jesus was confronted by every kind of wickedness. But He didn’t give up on us. He cared enough to tell His men to put their ‘guns’ away. To feed our minds He came, He said as “the witness to truth”. To provide for our spirits, He gave us His Eucharist and His mother Mary. And He inspires and graces us to do likewise: to be peaceable, truthful, caring. Jesus’ Good Friday sacrifice addresses the most troublesome human needs.
Crisis can bring out the worst in us but also the best. Frontline workers here and overseas have put themselves at risk to save us from sickness and death. But this isn’t just about survival and economy. If we are to do those heroes justice, we must learn the lessons of this experience, so that when we get back to ‘normal’ it’s a new normal. To be saved from the pandemic is not just to be inoculated against a virus: it’s to be made better people, more united, caring, self-sacrificing.
Only the One who said in the Garden, “Take me and let these others go”, can save us from ourselves. Only the One who said from the Cross, “Forgive them Father”, can end the blame-game. Only the One who promised a criminal, “Today you’ll join me in Paradise”, can trump our cynicism and despair. Only the One who taught “No greater love has anyone that this: that they lay down their life for their friends” (Jn 15:13) can inspire self-giving love.
So there are many things Jesus saves us from. When we meet again on Sunday morning we’ll reflect on what He saves us for. But if God saves us, who will save God? Some of those watching today are regular Church-goers, others not so, some not even Christians: today I pray in a special way for you. Know that God loves you for giving this hour to prayer and reflection on the anniversary of His Son’s death. Know that the Church loves you for being with us, too, helping us raise an online cathedral in place of closed churches and to be redeemed for our own failings. As you witness the self-sacrifice of Jesus and of many of our fellows, may you be saved, making you your best self—and more—through the grace of Easter.