It is Finished!

Several years ago, this Holy Friday homily was offered in Three Hierarchs Chapel by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean and professor of Patristics. 



It is Finished!

A few days ago we welcomed Christ into Jerusalem as a king entering his city,

 and now he lies before us dead.

We joined him at table, sharing in the bread he broke for us,
        and now his body lies broken before us.
He washed our feet,
        and we have now anointed his body and buried him.
It is finished.
We wanted, like his disciples, to stand on his right and left hand in the glory of his kingdom,
        we wanted, as they did, that he would do whatever we ask.
And now all of our hopes and expectations are dashed.
All of the things for which we habitually turn to God
        to request health, prosperity and security, his help in all our plans and projects,
        to bargain with him, offering our efforts to be more pious and ascetic
             – to be more religious,
        to ask him to intervene in the affairs of this world, and to remedy the mess that we have
             made of it all,
All of these things, and that which they support, that which we hold most dear – our own lives –
        all of this has ended up in the grave.
All is vanity, and all the paths of this world lead to death. 

It is finished.
We are much happier with our God in the heavens, than with the man lying before us:
        I do not know this man
We want a God who conforms to our expectations: an all-powerful and all-knowing puppet-
master,
        not one who confronts us as all-too-human, serving others, crying, dying.
Show us the Father, we ask, and it will be enough for us.
We yearn for a God who will lift us from our uncertainty, frailty and fear,
        to see things from his lofty and implacable perspective,
        with all things in his providential control, all problems solved as if by magic.
And in so doing, we ask to escape not only from our frailty, our suffering and tears,
        but also our joy and laughter
        – all the things that make up the particularly fragile beauty of human existence. 

It is finished.
I do not know the man – indeed, I do not want to know what it is to be human, to be mortal.
Yet this is what we committed ourselves to, when we responded to his words: "follow me"
        accompany me in the flesh, and hear the voice of God speaking to us from its weakness,
        from the destitute, the suffering, the needy.
As we follow him, we have tried our best – to be nice to others,
to the outcasts and sinners – the poor and the needy, the tax collectors and harlots –
        those whose company he sought.
We have tried to be nice to them, to be tolerant, excusing them and helping them to the extent we
deem possible and decent,
        all the while thanking God that we are not like them.
We hear the Word of God as directing us to other human beings, in their need,
        yet we still do not hear the Word of God coming from the weakness of the flesh itself.
The God we want would remains in the heavens, speaking to us from the heights,
        with clear edicts given for our improvement,
        so that we can satisfy ourselves that we have fulfilled our religious obligations.

It is finished– now all we have is silence.

Every other time that Christ appeared to us in divine form
        – at his birth, baptism and transfiguration –
        we heard the voice of God from the heavens saying "This is my Son, hear him."
But this time, when Christ cried out in abandonment,
        we heard nothing – we have no other place to look,
        but are left looking, unrelieved, at his broken body, and we have placed him in the earth.
And in this silence, all of the words, thoughts and images that constantly assail our minds
        are brought to an end.
It is finished. 

Having been reduced to silence, perhaps now, in the silence of God, we can finally hear the Word
of God – as it comes to us in the most stark form possible.
As we enter the blessed Sabbath, the Lord now rests from all his works- in the tomb before us.
        it is finished – it is completed: Behold the man, the true human being,
        the one who loved us till the end,
             even if I do not know him, and cannot comprehend him.  

"Among the gods there is none like thee O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works."
God's ways are past our understanding, shattering every constraint that limits our feeble
imagination:
        he has shown us what it is to be divine in the most awesome manner:
             not as a superhuman being, but as truly human,
and human in the way that most profoundly touches us all: by death;
        that which we all have in common, whatever station of life in which we find ourselves:
             for each of us will also assuredly die
If he had shown us what it is to be truly human in any other way, that would always privilege
some and exclude others;
And, if he had shown us what it is to be God in any other way, what part could I have had in it. 

But by his death, his life lived for others, a path of sacrifice and service, in his love and
compassion for us,
        he has shown us a more noble way,
             beyond our self-aggrandizing aspirations and merely human projections.
And this life has led. as it must, to the grave itself.
It is finished, perfected. 

It now remains for us to follow him to the end,
        not simply to stand by and watch, but to use our own mortality
             – the fact that each and every one of us is going to die whether we like it or not,
        to use our mortality, our capacity for death, in the manner that he has shown us:
        being crucified with him, dying now to all that is fallen and sinful in me and the world,
             that we might rise with him, and he live in us, as he promised.
We have prepared ourselves over the last forty days and more for this:
        putting to death our fleshly mind, that we might through our purified spiritual perception
        see strength in weakness
        that we might behold not merely another death, but the conquering of death by death.
So, let us now enter ourselves into this mysterious silence of the three day Pascha,
        keeping vigil through the night with words appropriate for the silent Word,
so that our funeral lament becomes the song, most appropriate for God – alleluia – Praise God!
And that we might learn to live in the light that comes from the tomb. 


 

Fr. John Behr reads during Holy Friday Matins at Three Hierarchs Chapel, 2012Fr. John Behr reads during Holy Friday Matins at Three Hierarchs Chapel, 2012