The following was preached at Saint Anselm’s last year. It was a sermon mixing my own thoughts with a sermon I myself had been reflecting on at that time for inspiration. But I cannot now remember what it was so cannot attribute it. Sorry!
God is dead. This is no conjurers trick. Jesus is unquestionably dead. We killed him. What does this say about us? What does this say about God? In the cross truth is revealed about both; we are fallen sinners in need of grace and salvation. He is that grace and salvation. He is love.
Yes, God is love! It has been said that, if all Bibles were destroyed and just one remained; and it was so damaged that only one page was intact, and this page so wrinkled that only one verse could be read: if that line was “God is love!”, the Bible would have been preserved. And it is this divine love – which shines from every bruise on Christ’s broken body this day.
The first truth the cross reveals is that God’s love is faithful. As we gaze at the human condition we find no faithfulness. The disobedience of Adam and Eve, the destruction of the prophets, the idolatry, sinfulness, arrogance and shame. It is all there in scripture. Our human failings are what nailed Christ to that tree. Hear these words from 2 Timothy:
“The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will itch for anything new and they will collect themselves a series of teachers according to their own tastes; and they will shut their ears to truth and turn to myths”
Prophecy being fulfilled. For few stand in true devotion before the Cross of Christ today. Many do not bother at all. Many others remain but water down the Gospel, they sanitise the cross. Having created a bastardised form of Christianity based not on fidelity to the teaching of Christ but to the values of modernity. The lie of atheism afflicts the former and the half truth of compromised faith the latter.
We live in an age which worships feelings over truth. But we must rise above what is deemed acceptable. The cross calls for faithfulness to the full revelation of Jesus Christ. Do not be blown by every wind like a feather! We have the scriptures and our Catholic faith – these alone must guide us. We must be faithful to Christ who was faithful to the end. Who wept in Gethsemane yet still went to his death. Just one compromise, one broken promise and salvation was undone. But on the cross Jesus was faithful to the last. What love!
The second truth the cross reveals is that love is merciful and holy. Pascal said there are three orders of virtue. The first is material: in it excels the athlete and the beauty. A value much admired in our world should not be disparaged, but it is the lowest form of virtue. For higher is intelligence in which thinkers, inventors, scientists, artists, and poets are distinguished. To be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly takes nothing away from genius. Physical weakness was no barrier to the wisdom of Socrates.
Intellectual greatness trumps physical greatness then but is still not the highest virtue. Above these is love, the virtue of goodness. Pascal calls it the order of holiness and grace. One drop of holiness, Gounod said, is worth more than an ocean of genius. To be beautiful or ugly, clever or illiterate does take anything away from the saint whose greatness is founded on God.
Christianity belongs in the realm of this ultimate virtue. In Quo Vadis, a pagan asks S. Peter: “Athens gave us wisdom, Rome power; what does your religion offer? And Peter responds: love!, the most fragile thing in the world; it can be killed so easily. But what do strength and genius- wisdom and power- offer without love and goodness? They become Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, terrorism. Only goodness redeems us from death. Only access to divine love.
“Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends,”. One might reply: A greater love does exist, Jesus! You gave your life for your enemies! But we would be wrong. We were never enemies. For where we hated him- he only loved us. Jesus calls Judas “friend” not because Judas deserved it, but because the sacred heart was full of love for Judas. Jeremiah, when persecuted prays: “let me see vengeance”; Jesus prays: “Forgive them, they know not what they do”
To have mercy- is what the cross demands! What would happen today if, by divine miracle, the people of the world, and especially the Middle East, rather than blaming one another shared their suffering and were moved with pity for one another. Division would fall and war would end. The same can be said of any conflict, including those in our own churches. We humans hate so easily but God calls us to love.
The third truth the cross reveals is that love is everlasting. God has deprived himself of the freedom to turn his back on us. His commitment is steadfast.
Questioned ever more frequently in society though is the need for sexual fidelity. What need has love, people say, with things which bind. And that is why we witness such a widespread rejection of traditional marriage and a delight in novelty, permissiveness and experimentation. But there is a vital relationship between love and commitment which the world refuses to see.
In order to return to his wife, Ulysses had to navigate the Sirens, who lured mariners to their death. What did Ulysses do? He tied himself to the mast, plugging the ears of his sailors. Arriving at the spot, he was charmed, screaming ‘untie me that I may reach the Sirens! But his companions could not hear- so he embraced his family again. Its a myth which helps us understand the reason for “indissoluble” marriage and religious vows. We must overcome the false and temporary attractions of life to build something lasting. We must overcome our basest nature and invest in things that matter.
Show me anyone who is truly in love and they will discern no conflict between pleasure and duty! The thought of commitment, of “having” to love the object of their passion brings them only happiness. Jesus appeared to Blessed Angela of Foligno during holy week saying: “I have not loved you for fun!”. There is a playful dimension to love, but it is not a game; love is the most serious thing in life. Aeschylus compared love to a lion cub raised at home, “docile and tender at first,” but later capable of staining the house with blood. How the world has cheapened love. How it delights in surface attraction, the practice of “use and discard”. But the cross reveals a different love that lasts forever. A love that will not let you go. On the cross three truths are revealed then. We find a God of faithfulness, of mercy and of commitment.
Will you be faithful to Jesus? Will you show mercy and forgiveness? These are questions for Good Friday born from the cross of Christ itself.