Good Friday 2021
[Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 31; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1 – 19:42]
Over the last twelve months we have all grown accustomed to new vocabulary. Words like COVID, coronavirus, super-spreader, pandemic, and lockdown are now common, terms that we wish we had never heard and earnestly desire never to hear again. Of late a new expression has come to preoccupy us: “variants of concern.” Just when we think we are turning a corner, we hear of new mutations of the original virus. They are very concerning, indeed, because of the ease with which they spread, the serious damage they can cause, and the extended isolation they necessitate.
When the Church gathers on Good Friday, our attention is drawn to other “variants of concern,” which have dramatically and tragically impacted humanity from its beginning. I speak here of mutations on the original sin of Adam and Eve, that first offence of rebellion against the goodness and wisdom of God. The variations have multiplied and replicated throughout history, and present as the many lies and infidelities that spread among members of the human race, harm our souls, and result in isolation from God.
Measuring the impact of the COVID variants is often done in reference to case counts and hospitalizations. The effect on humanity of the many strains of sin is evidenced in family violence, societal fracture, warring nations, the loss of respectful and civil discourse, rebellion against truths inherent in nature, and so on. To battle the spread of the original coronavirus and its offshoots, medical science has striven mightily to produce vaccines over the last year. The process has been accompanied by frequent testing to assess their efficacy. Against original sin and its many variants, the remedy was supplied 2000 years ago. In the personal experience of the countless millions of people who have since embraced it, this antidote has proven time and again to be 100 per cent effective. That cure is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Cross is the instrument on which Jesus, the Eternal Son of God made flesh, died in an act of perfect obedience to God the Father. This obedient self-gift cancelled out the disobedient act of rebellion on the part of our first parents. Through the self-offering of our Lord, who had taken the full weight of human sin upon himself, humanity was reconciled to God and the power of sin definitively vanquished. Since then, the grace of the Cross has reached human hearts through the distribution network of the Church’s sacraments to heal God’s people of sin’s abiding mutations.
Yet this divine grace is only effective in our lives if we receive it. We hear medical officials warning us frequently that the different vaccines on offer must not be allowed to sit on shelves; what is needed, they say, are “jabs in arms”. Well, the saving grace of the Cross is always available through the ministry of the Church, but for our sin to be healed and our lives transformed what is needed is the penetration of the heart. Only when we open our hearts to Christ and allow him to infuse them with his wondrous love and mercy will his grace take hold and change our lot.
From this arises the question that confronts us as we stand before the Cross on Good Friday: are we willing to receive the remedy it brings and be healed? You’ve heard in the news reports of hesitancy on the part of some people to receive a vaccine if doubt is cast on its efficacy or if concern is expressed about possible side effects. This uncertainty gives rise to second thoughts. With respect to the grace emanating from the Cross, we are absolutely certain of its effectiveness to heal our sin and know without any doubt that its side effect is a transformed life. Yet it is precisely this certainty that at times can close our hearts to grace if we do not want to be changed. The sinful variant of complacency may leave us disinterested in the new way of life Christ offers. Perhaps the most lethal “variant of concern” we call pride is preventing us from acknowledging our need for Christ and his mercy. Beneath it all, maybe we are afraid of the Cross, knowing intuitively that it will lay bare and confront the falsehoods shaping our mindsets and behaviours.
There is no need, though, to be afraid of the Lord. This becomes increasingly clear as we respond to the summons of this Good Friday liturgy to adore the Cross of Christ. In awe and thanksgiving we gaze upon its wood, and acclaim it as that on which the Saviour gave his own life for that of the world. We adore the Cross because we recognize it as the sign of God’s unconditional love for the people He created. The death of Jesus on the Cross reveals that we are, each of us, completely loved by God, sinners though we are. No variant of sin could ever diminish that love or lessen its power. There is no reason to fear the love of Jesus, and every reason to embrace it.
So, in this solemn liturgy, as we adore the Cross as the instrument of our salvation, let us open our hearts to receive from it the love that heals and transforms. May that love deeply penetrate our hearts, heal us of all sinful “variants of concern,” and set us once again on the road to eternal life.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
April 2nd, 2021