It is Holy Saturday!
Jesus has given Himself to us, first on Holy Thursday in the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood, the former filled with His glorious Self, the latter – well every priest, like all the baptized, is called to be holy, that is through cooperation with the Holy Spirit to be filled with the glory of Christ Himself.
Alas, the Eucharistic species can be trampled underfoot, Jesus ignored in the Tabernacle, Holy Communion received unworthily and priests, heart-wrenchingly, do commit horrific sins.
The great question then is, simply: what kind of God, what sort of Redeemer, remains with us in states of vulnerability?
Why does the Almighty, the All-powerful seem to stand by while wars rage, the innocent are abused, famine devastates millions, and the culture of death casts the heavy shadow of evil seemingly in almost everyone’s life, certainly over vast swathes of the earth, slaughtering the unborn, fuelling anger and hatred throughout the human family?
I can hear the moans and astonished incomprehension, even anger in the words: “You are nuts Father! Love? Are you kidding me?”
No joke, no kidding, absolutely serious: LOVE!
We exist because God who is Love creates us to love us.
We pilgrimage through history with the firm hope of eternity in Love’s embrace because the Father so loves us He sent His only Son, Jesus, to dwell among us in the flesh, to embrace our humanity, to suffer, die, be buried so we might have life in abundance.
We struggle to love one another, serve one another, forgive each other, because the Love-Gift, the Holy Spirit works tirelessly within us to sanctify and vivify.
Even the unbaptized know love, true love, is gift.
Any human being can be overpowered by someone who is stronger – but no human being is powerful enough to make someone love them!
To love you I must be free – free to choose you as the person I love.
Freedom means the ability to say no!
A man who batters his wife, a woman who manipulates her husband – the battered/manipulated spouse may say: ‘I love you.’, but it is always a lie because there is no freedom.
God who is love, is absolutely, infinitely free – thus His love is eternal gift.
God who is love, and treasures our love, creates us with free will.
We are free to love Him, or not.
We exercise this freedom and love Him by the way we love each other.
Sin is fundamentally a refusal to love God by acting in ways that are anti-love towards each other.
So on Good Friday Jesus pours out this divine and redeeming love to the last drop of His Blood, crying out the ultimate love-cry: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’
Then, once dead, Jesus is buried, as we proclaim in the Creed: “…..was buried. He descended to the dead [into hell].”
Into what place of the dead, what hell?
Not just that place where every human being since Adam and Eve were awaiting Jesus to open the gates of heaven.
Love is more creative than that!
Jesus, because of His Incarnation, His Self-Gift in the Eucharist to remain with us always, His Agony in the Garden, His Passion on the Cross, Jesus enters every moment of collective and personal human experience and history.
The full impact of any anti-love word or action by any human being against another, yes the greater portion of any sinful act, hits Jesus first.
He stands in the gap between one fist and another face, between one warring army and another, between the vulnerable child and the approaching abuse, between the hateful word and the ear of the downtrodden.
Jesus cannot take away the freewill of any aggressor.
To do so would require snuffing out their existence.
Victim of abuse, violence, hatred, in our pain we may well wish He would snuff out the existence of our attacker.
All Jesus can do is a twofold act of love: Try and motivate the aggressor to choose love over sin; take upon Himself the worst of what happens to us.
Once when I was a boy I was beaten and spat upon by a gang of older boys and I wondered where Jesus was.
When a friend of my youth took his own life, I wondered where Jesus is.
The day I was falsely accused and for months thereafter it sure seemed to me Jesus was nowhere to be found.
Each time one of the homeless shows up in the soup kitchen battered and despairing, however, as we do what we can to comfort, to feed, to clothe I see, I know, where Jesus is: right there in that man or woman needing to be served, right there in the volunteers who serve – ah, so that beaten boy was not alone; my friend did not die alone; Jesus entered the agony of being lied about long before I was even born!
Yes the experience of waiting at the threshold of hell for hope, some tomb in life, the hell-tomb of some deep wound because of an outrage we have suffered, rejection which cuts to the quick of our heart, the darkness of crushing doubt, can seem pointless, for what ‘hell’ we have experienced has ever been emptied of its horrible pain?
Indeed, who has ever come back from the dead?
What tomb has ever been flooded with light?
Do you hear it?
It is the sound of a stone being rolled away!