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GOOD FRIDAY 2002: March 29, 2002

                                      H O M I L Y     G R I T S
                                                Good Friday      
                                            March 29,  2002
                               ©Copyright 2002 by Grant Gallup    

¶Book of Common Prayer lectionary 
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Who could have imagined his future?
or Genesis 22:1-18 The fire and the knife 
 or Wisdom of Solomon 2:1,12-24 No one has been known to return
Psalm 22:1-21, or 22:1-11 Deus, Deus meus,
 or 40:1-14,Expectans, expectavi,
 or 69:1-23 Salvum me, fac
Hebrews 10:1-25 We have a great priest over the house of God
John (18:1-40)19:1-37 If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would

We have for centuries dated the years of history "B.C.", before Christ, and
"A.D." for Anno Domini, the year of the Lord. Nowadays we see in use the
more ecumenical style, BCE, "before the Common era."   But the dotted line
on which we have divided the times is wavery and unsure, for we are not
certain of the year of Jesus' birth, which began our "common era,"  and
which we use as our home base.  We were thinking of the first Christmas as
the hinge of heaven gate, and have never thought to count the years to and
fro from the first Good Friday, or the first Easter, instead of from his
birth day.   Yet it is these days at the end of Semana Santa, Holy Week,
that are the hinges, with Easter, of our years. Everything in our history
dates from these grim noondays, that breathless dawn. For no one would be
remembering Jesus' birthday (as we remember George Washington's, or
Buddha's, or  Muhammad's) if there had only been Good Friday and no Easter.

It is impossible for Christians to celebrate Good Friday as we celebrate
all other holy days, in commemoration of that isolate event.  It is
intolerable to us to observe it as we observe the anniversaries of the
assassinations of Great Soul Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Martin Luther
King, Jr., or Dr. Ernesto"Che" Guevara.  Those, like the first
Pilate-Friday itself, are memories in mourning and in grief.   They had no
Easter, 'though the blood of those martyrs has seeded a universal church of
hope in humanity all over the world. But the crucifixion of Jesus on Good
Friday is so intimately
connected with Easter that St. John's gospel looks upon it as the hour of
his glory, the day of his triumph, as much so as is the discovery of the
empty tomb and the mystical awareness of the guest at Emmaus.  

The Church has hesitated to celebrate the eucharist this day, and there
were times in history when she did not do so, and shut her doors as under
interdict from God.  And so even today she dares ask no favors of God, no
blessings today, wears no trumpery nor tinsel, and sings no joyous song.
She hoards some meager consecrated bread and wine, sneaked in from earlier
celebratory tables to have this  mass of the presanctified, the previously
hallowed, and sheepishly creeps to the cross and kisses it, to defuse our
shame for having built it, and for having nailed him and so many others
there. But the cross is still there, under our piety, behold its hard wood,
under the gauzy veil.
It now is called lethal injection or detention of illegal combatants.  

Thomas Cahill *  remarks how we try to avoid it.  "Our most common
reference to the horror of the crucifixion is the sanitized cross," he writes,
"which, whether Protestant-pure or festooned and entabled in the manner of
the Eastern churches seems determined to keep our mind off the 'worm and no
man' (of Psalm 22) . . . the poor and the miserable may know better.
Whether under a wayside Polish crucifix or a Baroque depiction of the
Ultimate Agony in a Mexican cathedral, the bowed people one sees on their
knees before this image seldom have the patina of the well-heeled and

  When I was in seminary forty years ago, we Anglo-Catholics fought to have
real crucifixes on seminary walls, and low church protestants fought to
take them down. Doubtless they reminded them of Catholicism, and masses for
the dead.  Instead they liked shiny brass crosses, with no corpus on them at
all. Clean, manly religion.  But we all avoided connecting this symbol to
the hangman's noose,  the electric chair, or the Old Rugged Cross of the
Klan, which favorite Old American furniture few of us fought to eradicate
from the human household then.  "By a perversion of justice," says Isaiah,
"he was taken away."  It is always a perversion of justice to practice
capitalist punishment. "Behold the wood of the cross" is the rubric under
every such act of villainy and vengeance. 

Surely we will notice the clinically bloodless sacrifices presided over by
the electronic virtual president we have now, George W. Bush, the first
president "selected" instead of "elected", who sends dozens of Jesus' kin
from Golgotha to their graves by due process and popular approval, as an
emperor sending the damned to the arena.  No nails now, no screams of God's
abandonment:  they are air-brushed from these Calvaries. It is the way we
have always dealt with Good Friday--avoid it, and look at the Easter bunny.
"Still the Cross"
by E. Merrill Root.

Calvary is a continent
Today.  America
Is but a vast and terrible
New Golgotha.

The Legion (not of Rome today)
Jests.  The Beatitutdes
Are called by our new Pharisees
Sweet platitudes.

We tear the seamless robe of love
with great guns' lightning-jets;
We set upon Christ's head a crown
of bayonets.

"Give us Barabbas!" So they cried
Once in Jerusalem:
In Alcatraz and Leavenworth
We copy them.

With pageant and with soldiers still
We march to Golgotha
And crucify Him still
Upon a cross of war.

O blasphemous and blind! shall we
Rejoice at Eastertide
When Christ is risen but to be
Recrucified?* * 

Jesus never mistook himself for Messiah, because the expectation that
people had for Messiah was, in his mind, a mistaken one.  He came to
Jerusalem, as he relentlessly taught, and his disciples reluctantly
learned, not as a wonder worker who could solve all the nation's problems
by miracles or magic.  He wanted people to take into their own hands the
future that God was offering for their lives.  He asked that people turn
from deceit, greed, and chicanery to straightforwardness (what Michael
Gorbachov called Glasnost--open-ness, transparency) and fairness.  The
crowd mistook him for a politician, and turned on him first chance.  Jesus
came among us a God's "slave boy", as the Hebrew scriptures' language puts
it, and in every age he has re-appeared in the servants of God who accept
the apron of service, the cup of suffering.    He drew to him along his way
of sorrows some disciples who were not so naive as those who choose seats
of authority somewhat prematurely.  "Blessed are those who are not
disillusioned with me" Jesus said.  Along came Simon of Cyrene,  not
entirely by choice, to carry the cross.  John means to tell us the
powerless again are closest to the cross, and "there were many women there
at the cross, who had followed Jesus from Galilee." John has them standing
near Jesus in his agony:  his mother, his aunt Mary the wife of Clopas, and
Mary Magdalene, along with John, his beloved.  They were the last who saw
him alive, the first to see him dead.  John Dominic Crossan suggests that
vultures ate his sarx, his flesh, and graveyard dogs his wounds,  which was
what happened to criminals who died this way, and that the infant church
was so mortified it could not remember this, and forgot it happened, and
gave Jesus a decent burial courtesy of an invented undertaker from an
invented village. 

Caiaphas was a loyal agent of the empire, named by Valerius Maximus, and it
was he who invented "the final solution" of the Jesus problem. "You don't
seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see what it is
better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be
destroyed" (John 11:50).  It was not the Hebrew children, but the power
groups of a puppet state who devised the scenario of Good Friday.
Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, for crimes against the empire.
Bereavement counsellors were not retained by Judean funeral parlors.  

This  is a more disgraceful death than the fiction of a borrowed tomb,
tidied up, indeed invented to fulfill a prophecy.  Instead: "Blessed are
those who are not disillusoned in me."  The gospel of Good Friday-Easter is
that God acts in history through the people, through the poor and the
oppressed, the diminished and the powerless, and overcomes the worst that
the bent world can do to them to defeat them and rob them of life and
dignity, as it did to our brother Jesus. "And it is by God's will that we
have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once
for all," says the letter to the Hebrews.  

It is a lie to say that God helps those that help themselves, for every
crook in the world knows how to help himself.  Every bought-off alderman
can help himself.  It is blasphemy to say God helps Caiphas, who used
religion to enrich his family, or such as Judas, who used Jesus to enrich
himself.   Pilate found Jesus a nuisance and a subversive, and acted like
the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, or Guatemala, or Nicaragua, or nowadays in
the puppet state of the Israelis, or the charade state of Palestine.  They
keep the evil system going, and help to nip revolution in the bud.  They
crucify the option for the poor, and set vultures to their battered bodies.
 But God helps those who cannot help themselves.  God raises up the
murdered, God raises up the destroyed and defeated, those who are crucified
and left for carrion with the rebel and outlaw, those who are entombed by
the rich in their religion.  

God empowers those who cry for liberation and deliverance, for an "integral
salvation," that does not limit itself to pie in the sky, or a saviour
disappeared into the ether of skygod piety.  There is no better way to
celebrate this week, no holier way to celebrate these thrilling days, than
to come with the women here, and look for the Body of the One who is our
Friend.  We shall have to get up early, for angels are on the way, to meet
us at the tomb.    

W. H. Auden's poem, "Friday's Child" was written (1958) in memory of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by the perennial empire, at Flossenburg,
April 9th, 1945.  These are the last stanzas:

"Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again?  We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
 Quite sure of Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
  And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
  A death reserved for slaves."***

Apartado RP-10
Managua, Nicaragua C.A.
Tel. 011-505-2662165 
GRITS 2nd series now on-line:   http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/homilygrits

*Thomas Cahill, in "Desire of the Everlasting Hills: the World Before and
After Jesus" New York &c: NanA.Talese/Doubleday/Randall House 1999.
**E. Merrill Root, "Still the Cross", from "Lost Eden", Packard & Co., from
The Story of Jesus in the World's Literature, ed. Edw. Wagenknecht, New
York: Creative Age Press, 1946.  
***W.H.Auden, "Friday's Child,"in memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred
at Flossenburg, April 9, 1945. Collected Poems, ed. Edw. Mendelson.
Franklin Library 1978.

{This is a revision of a homily that first appeared as Homily Grits for
Good Friday 2001.--gmg.}

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