02 Apr 2021

Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney

Life can be a bitter cup and Jesus knew He must drink it. In St John’s Passion (Jn 18:1-19:42) we saw betrayal and arrest, scourging and mockery, kangaroo court and terrible verdict. Before our eyes Jesus was stripped of His clothes, dignity, friends, life. If the greatest of us dies such a death, our cause is surely hopeless…

There is crisis in the air at present: the global pandemic has already claimed nearly 3 million lives. There’s talk of crisis in climate, leadership, respect for institutions, trust. Some of this talk is overblown. But the physical, emotional and spiritual calamity of the Triduum is very real: it tears the world apart.

Giotto, The Arrest of Jesus or The Kiss of Judas (1304), Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Last night we witnessed Part I of this Crisis in the Kingdom of God, when at Supper and in the Garden Jesus’ followers – the Church – lost faith. Judas would die from this loss of faith, in God’s mercy, the world, himself; Peter would recover. Those apostles are us, of course, when we go through a crisis of confidence or ideals, a dark night of the soul, when we feel betrayed, or God seems distant, and we are rudderless. For some this lasts a short while only, for others many years. Like the Twelve, we could go either way, into infidelity or renewed hope.

Part II of the Crisis in the Kingdom of God is not just for Jesus’ followers but for Jesus Himself, a crisis more of hope than faith. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” He cried out (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). No beautiful, charismatic figure today, drawing attention and affection. “Lifted up… we were appalled on seeing him… a thing despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” (Is 52:13-53:12). We, too, can be acquainted with grief, depression, over sickness or death, our own or another’s, or over dysfunctional relationships, dashed aspirations. Our problems seem too big, our solutions too small. Courage fails, optimism evaporates. Some try to sure things up by maximising wealth, power or security. Others numb the pain with drugs or distractions, or drop out altogether.

The two characters making up the Chinese word for crisis 危机 are frequently said to signify danger and opportunity; whether or not that’s accurate, the word does indicate a tipping point. Crises can end in disaster or in progress. What about today’s crisis of hope in the Kingdom of God? Well, the psalm that begins My God, my God, why have you abandoned me (Ps 22), ends praising the God who saves and whose story will be told for generations. There are other hints of hope here too. Some stand by faithful to the end. The pagan governor recognises Jesus as ‘King of the Jews’ and the centurion as ‘son of God’. A criminal is promised paradise. Jesus’ declares His mission accomplished. The Waters of Baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist flow from His side. Two disciples work up the courage to claim the Body. “His soul’s anguish over, he shall see the light and be content,” says Isaiah, “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many.”

As we creep to the Cross today, we see around us the Sorrowing Mother and young John, the Magdalene and holy women. The half-converted centurion is here and the bolting apostles, Arithmetic Joe and Nick the night-owl. They’re all here with us and with them we hope against hope – for Jesus, each other, ourselves.

Fra Angelico, The Harrowing of Hell (1442), San Marco Florence

There is cause for such hope. For as Jesus ‘harrows hell’ He joins all those we’ve loved and lost, the unloved too and unremembered, those for whom none holds out hope, and those who’ve lost hope for themselves. To all these He promises life beyond the grave.

Last night we as the disciples passed through a crisis of faith and we prayed for stronger faith. Today it’s a crisis of hope and we pray today for stronger hope. We take hold of the faith and hope God offers. We call that most hopeless of days Good Friday, for it is the passage to tomorrow night, when there will be more to tell. “As for me,” the Lord continues as He sings His psalm from the cross,  As for me, “I trust in the Lord and say: ‘You are my God’… Be strong, my heart, and take courage, all you who hope in the Lord!”