We arrive at Good Friday like a marathon runner who turns the corner and sees the finish line 3 miles ahead. It’s taken everything we’ve got to get here. We have wandered through Lent, having carried with us promises made – some kept, some broken – that encapsulate our best intentions for a holy season of reflection and walking with Jesus, on the road to this very moment where we meet him, his mother, and his closest friends at the foot of the cross.
The entire drama of the Christian story confronts us today in the narrative of a shady arrest in the middle of the night, an unjust trial and conviction, friends scattered in fear, and the death penalty dealt in the cruelest form. It is on Good Friday that Christians remember in the most vivid way that at the center of all history lies the mystery of the Incarnation, God made flesh, and that flesh dying on the cross.
A year ago at this time the pandemic had us commemorating Holy Week and the Triduum remotely, in our homes, through the internet in whatever ways our churches could muster, or as interloper in other churches' programming.
In many ways, with over 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. we surely feel like we are at a turning point, if not the center of our stories. A year ago at this time I too met with what would be a pivot point in my story. My 92-year-old mother had moved in with me a couple of weeks before Holy Week, at a moment when it became clear that she was overcome by an aggressively developing dementia. On that Good Friday, my mother slumped over in her wheelchair at the breakfast table, seemingly comatose. We placed her in bed and had the priest come to give her the anointing of the sick – which he had to do via a phone call from his car outside her window because of Covid protocols, only coming in to anoint her with oil on a cotton swab. In a way that day was also the center of her story. She awoke very early on Easter morning angry with me, demanding to know why I had brought her back from death. The lady was upset! She claimed she had been with God, and it was beautiful and peaceful. She passed away a little over a month later.
We recreate the drama of salvation every year. The Triduum, that journey that begins on Holy Thursday, moving us through Good Friday, and concluding with the Easter Vigil, echoes the story of salvation: from the creation of all that is seen and unseen through the glorious resurrection of Christ, Victor. But at its heart, the journey of Holy Week and the Triduum is also the humble walking with Jesus of Nazareth at his most vulnerable, at his most abandoned, at his most scorned, at his most afraid, at his most sorrowful for all whom he loved, through the agony of a broken and wounded body, and unto death on the cross.
In the readings for today the prophet Isaiah stirs our imagination describing the miseries of the suffering servant: “He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering accustomed to infirmity. One of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured.”
Isaiah’s description of the pain, scorn, and suffering of this person could very well be the last year for so many o us. We have seen our loved ones be overcome with the infirmity of Covid-19 and succumb to it. We ourselves have become sick, some of us with long term effects that have significantly changed the way we go about our lives. For others, the infirmity of this past year is reflected in deepening mental health struggles for us or our family members, loss of jobs, inability to pay for housing or groceries. Isaiah’s imagery holds us because the servant’s suffering is our suffering too. In it we can feel seen, validated, embraced by this key text in our story of salvation.
The story of Jesus’ passion in the gospel of John also engages our imagination as we remember, and actively participate in the retelling of the central event in all of history. John’s ongoing play with the words “I AM” coming from Jesus’ lips in various phrases reminds us that this is God made flesh, the great “I AM” taking on our suffering, wagering all for the love of the creature. Having already rehearsed the passion during the gospel on Palm Sunday, we come to my favorite moment in the entire liturgical year: at the hearing of Jesus’ final breath on the cross all must kneel and pause in silence. At the center of all history – a moment marked by profound vulnerability and unjust suffering – we are brought to our knees, our wager of faith hanging on the cross lifeless and torn.
Surely the news of over 500,000 dead, the utterance of the words “I Can’t Breath” by our African American brothers and sisters, the death of a Capitol guard during the insurrection in January, the death and suffering of our loved ones, our mothers, our aunts, our brothers, our friends, our lovers – these moments that center our histories, these too bring us to our knees. On Good Friday our being brought to our knees for what seems like every day of our existence finally begins to make sense, as the one who reconciles all in all also dies our death and breaths his last. May the entire story of creation, and all of our unique stories be reconciled in Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen.
María Teresa (MT) Dávila
María Teresa (MT) Dávila
María Teresa (MT) Dávila, visiting associate professor of practice at Merrimack College, is a scholar focusing on racial and migrant justice, public theology, and the ethics of the use of force. With Agnes Brazal, she is co-editor of Living With(out) Border: Theological Ethics and Peoples on the Move (Orbis Press, 2016). She is a regular contributor to “Theology en la Plaza”, National Catholic Reporter, the first Latin@ column in a national Catholic newspaper. Her work also appears in Syndicate and Political Theology Today. Since 2016 she has been a consultant for the Science for Seminaries program, an initiative to enable seminaries to include sciences in the training of pastors and faith leaders.
María Teresa (MT) Dávila es profesora asociada de la práctica (visitante) en el departamento de Estudios Religiosos y Teológicos en Merrimack College, en Massachusetts. Pertenece a la iglesia Católica como mujer laica. Sus estudios y escritos se concentran en las áreas de justicia racial y migratoria, teología pública, y la ética del uso de armas y la guerra justa. Junto a Agnes Brazal (de las Filipinas), MT es co-editora de la colección de ensayos Living With(out) Border: Theological Ethics and Peoples on the Move (Orbis Press, 2016). Contribuye regularmente a la columna “Teología en la Plaza” en el periódico National Catholic Reporter, la primera columna dedicada al ángulo latino en un periódico Católico estadounidense. Desde el 2016 trabaja en la junta de consultores para el proyecto de las ciencias en los seminarios, una iniciativa que trata de facilitar el uso de las ciencias en la educación teológica de los pastores y líderes de fe. MT lleva unos cinco años estudiando de cerca el fenómeno de las “guerras culturales” en los EEUU, y la manera en que las mismas interfieren con la misión de las iglesias cristianas en la nación.
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