Breathed His Last

A Homily for Good Friday

Text: Isaiah 52:13-52:12; St. John 18:1-19:42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Crucified One. Amen.

On Sunday, the disciples marched in a parade into the city, full of hopeful expectation: the Messiah, David’s greater Son, entering into the holy city at Passover! The Kingdom was at hand! It was all so glorious!

But over the course to the week, the disciples watched their hope wither like a cursed fig tree. It all unraveled so quickly: The confrontations in the Temple. The plot to arrest Jesus. At dinner last night, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him – and then Judas just got up and left.

And then Jesus told Peter that he, the Rock, would crack under the pressure. And then comes the garden, and they can’t even stay awake.

Then comes the sham trial, and only a few of the disciples follow – and Peter, standing around the fire, denies that he even knows his Lord.

All the while, we get the sense that Pilate is almost enjoying this: toying with the crowds, delighting in getting the Temple leaders to declare their allegiance to Caesar, sneering as he asks Jesus what truth is, basking in the power, knowing that he has his proverbial knee on the neck of all Judaea.

And then comes the jeering crowds and the torture at the hands of Roman soldiers: the scourging, the crown of thorns and the purple robe and the mockery.

And then comes the cross, and only the women and John dare to follow there.

It’s always the women, isn’t it? The ones who refuse to look away. The ones who capture last words, who bear witness to the violence inflicted by the sinful and fallen powers of this world? Imagine what the Blessed Virgin have heard her Son gasping to say on the cross:

Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe. Please, man. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Please. Man, I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe. Please. I can’t breathe…I can’t move. Mama. Mama. I can’t….I’m through. I’m through. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. Some water or something. Please. Please. I can’t breathe, officer. Don’t kill me. They goin’ kill me, man. Come on, man. I cannot breathe. I cannot breath. They goin’ kill me. They goin’ kill me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Please, sir. Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe.

These were the last words uttered by George Floyd as he was pushed face-down into the streets of Minneapolis by Officer Derek Chauvin as a crowd looked on in horror. They easily could have been those uttered by our Lord on the cross.

Today is a reminder that on the cross, Jesus bore all of the sinful consequences of this fallen world: brutal and violent oppression at the hands of the state, the sting of the whip and rod, the scorn of the world, the despair of knowing the end is at hand, the feeling of abandonment, the gaping chasm of death itself. On the cross, Christ – the Very Son of God, the Incarnate Word, the One through Whom all things were made – bore the punishment of sin.

And through his agony on the cross, Christ drew God and the world together.

At Golgotha, Christ felt our suffering. In his Passion, Christ experienced the pain of those whipped on plantations and lynched on Southern poplar trees. He became the strange fruit born by the Tree of the Cross. He experienced first-hand the violence inflicted upon those murdered by the state.

In the Crucifixion, God the Father felt the sorrow of parents mourning their children. Seeing the only-Begotten Son, the Beloved One, hanging from a tree, our Heavenly Father experienced the pain of Mamie Till and Samaria Rice.

In the Cross, we see the strange nature of our atonement – that God’s deliverance comes to us not only in glory but in our sufferings and even through death itself.

As migrant children at the border are still sleeping in over-crowded cages, God is present in their midst.

As gun violence claims more and more lives across this country, God is with those who mourn.

As persons of color endure the cruelty of racial prejudice and violence, even at the hands of the state, God is with them.

 As people across the world weep for the deaths of some 3 million victims of the covid pandemic, God is with them in their grief.

“God is with you.” This is not some trite saying but rather it gets to the most profound reality of who God is:

the one who hears the cries of Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, who delivers Judah out of Exile, who takes notice of lowly Israel. Jesus’ death on the cross is the culmination of God’s love for the lowly and the oppressed.

And throughout Christ’s life, he has been among those who have suffered: taken as a refugee to escape the violence of King Herod, ministering among the possessed, the sick, the leper, the outcast, the hungry, the disabled. In some strange way, today is the logical end of his ministry, for on the Cross, Jesus Christ, though being fully co-equal with God the Father, poured himself out, suffering among the least even to the point of death.

Now, he has given up his spirit. He is in the tomb. The stone has been laid. The guard has been set. Ten of the twelve are hiding behind locked doors. Only John and the women remain.

It is finished. And yet, there is more to come.

Amen.

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