Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Good Friday – April 16, 2017
Almost thirty-eight years ago, when I was in the seminary, I participated in a biblical study tour of the Holy Land, conducted by a great priest of our Diocese who left us far too soon – Father Bob Barone. For all that we experienced during those days, I particularly recall being in the Old City of Jerusalem, as we encountered many of the sites mentioned in today’s reading of Saint John’s Passion.
One site will forever stand out in my memory: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a complicated structure which encompasses the sites of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Upon entering the main doors of the church, I can recall walking up a stone stairway immediately to the right of the entrance – a stairway that leads to a chapel filled with the strong scent of incense and darkened by soot from hundreds of burning candles. The faithful ahead of me were making their way to an altar, in front of which each person crouched to the floor, knelt on the hard marble and reached their hand into an opening in the floor in order to touch a piece of rock.
Eventually, it was my turn to touch what peasants and kings alike have sought to touch for two millennia. It was my turn to touch one of the most revered places in human history: the rock of Calvary … the place where Mary and John stood as they watched Jesus breathe his last … the place from which a soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side … the place where Jesus uttered his last words: “Father, forgive them.” “It is finished.” “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Most historians and archaeologists agree that this spot is, in fact, the actual site of the crucifixion. And for people of faith, this spot – Calvary – this cold, worn rock – is the place where God’s covenant with his people was fulfilled. … “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Calvary is the place where, through the mystery and power of God, a tree for execution became the tree of life for all who seek Divine mercy and love.
Calvary reminds us that while God could have chosen to save the world in any way that he wished, he chose to save it through his son Jesus, who took on human flesh and form for a reason. … Yes, Jesus carried a cross to atone for our sins and to give us a way forward in life. … But Jesus also carried a cross so that we, in our suffering – pain – and grief – might discover a God who understands – because he suffers with us.
My brothers and sisters, this bond between the crucified Jesus and the crosses that are woven into our world and into our lives reminds us that while many have taken the long journey to Jerusalem to experience the place of Jesus’ sacrifice and death, Calvary is not just one place, at one moment in time.
Calvary is everywhere! It is any place where the Body of Christ is scourged, stripped, beaten and broken.
There is the Calvary of war, oppression and terrorism that has permeated all parts of our world – that has destroyed defenseless lives – and that has stolen hope from innocent hearts.
There is the Calvary of hatred and bigotry that has marginalized suffering souls – that has torn immigrant families apart – and that continues to judge and demean individuals whose life choices are inconsistent with those of the self-righteous few.
There is the Calvary that emerges from self-centered and self-consumed lives that disregard the treasured gifts of the unborn – the disabled – the elderly – the poor.
There is the Calvary built from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of innocent lives; a suffering that robs them of peace and well-being.
There is the Calvary that we embrace as we watch ourselves and those we love succumb to the ravages of time, illness and human frailty.
And there is the Calvary that dwells within every human heart, whenever we turn toward sin and turn our backs on Jesus.
The world is haunted by Calvarys. Yet, by God’s grace and in God’s plan, Calvary isn’t the end of the story. While the cross of Calvary repulses us and shames us, confronting us with death and humiliation, with the injustice and betrayal of which we are all capable, the same cross – transformed by God’s power and grace – is also the means through which we achieve life and rebirth.
Recall the words from the Letter to the Hebrews, “Since we have a great high priest, … Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
A few moments ago, as I described my experience of the site of the Crucifixion today in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I noted that there was only one way to touch the rock of Calvary. You have to get on your knees.
As such, there is also only one way to move on from Calvary. You have to get up. You have to rise! … The message of this sacred day – the lesson that the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher teaches every person who draws near – is that the journey to Calvary always ends … by rising.
Pray along with me in your hearts this Good Friday prayer written by Francis, our Pope. … “O Cross of Christ, teach us that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night. O Cross of Christ, teach us that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb and before the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God which nothing can defeat, obscure or weaken. Amen!”