Good Friday was really quite awful! It was good for us but bad for Jesus. We relived the Passion today as we followed the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Sorrows – through the crowded streets of Jerusalem from the site of Pilate’s Praetorium to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over Golgotha.
But Jesus did not view the cross as a horror to shun as I would have. Rather he viewed it as a weapon to fight evil and to win eternal life for his fallen and sinful creation. While teaching at the Kadina Airforce Base in Okinawa a few weeks ago I told the pilots and Airforce personnel that to Jesus the cross was like an F-16 fighter jet – it was the weapon to defeat the enemy and secure freedom and liberty.
Remember in the movie “The Passion” when Jesus clutches the cross and the bad thief says, “You fool, why do you embrace your cross?” Later Jesus says to his mother as he falls to the limestone pavement “See, I make all things new!” The cross was not an enemy but the weapon to defeat sin, Satan and death. Jesus embraced it willingly and suffered in the short term to bring about salvation and freedom and joy for eternity. Now we must take up our cross (ouch!) and follow him – OR we are not worthy of him,as he said “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven” (ouch again!).
Today the streets and the Holy Sepulchre were packed with pilgrims from every conceivable corner of the earth. As we prayed at each Station along the way we talked with others also adoring the Lord. How truly marvelous is our universal Catholic Church. Actually that is a redundancy because Catholic means “universal”. It is made up of every tribe, color, nation, and tongue in the world. As the book of Revelation (7:9) says,
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
We met Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Brits, French, Americans, Filipinos, Egyptians, Armenians, Ethiopians, Nigerians and many other nations of Africa, Palestinians, Christian Jews, Canadians, Mexicans, Irish, Indians, Koreans, and many others. What a beautiful thing to pray along with them all “We adore you O Lord and bless you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”
Hebrews – Jews – were the first to hear the Gospel and the first to believe in the Messiah. What a joy for Janet and I to celebrate the Good Friday service with a Hebrew congregation with the service said in Hebrew with Hebrew Catholics. How can you go up and kiss the cross in Jerusalem with Hebrew Catholics on Good Friday and not be overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, a sense of history, a love for the Jews and for their God. I can never understand anti-Jewish sentiment. It always reminds me of the little ditty that goes:
“How odd of God to choose the Jew, but odder still are those who love the Jewish God and hate the Jew.”
Again I am remember my great love and debt to the Jewish people and see they still have a great part to play in the story of salvation.
Happy Easter everyone! From Jerusalem, Steve Ray, 4/9/04