Good Friday, 2002
Good Friday, (noon) 2002
Ecumenical – 7 Last Words – Service*
St. David’s, Pepperell
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale
* This was pieced together from notes made a few days after the homily was preached. For context – earlier that morning the news had reported that Israeli tanks had surrounded, and were bombing, a building in which Arafat was trapped. This launched the newest round of active conflict that has not yet abated. It was also the first Holy Week and Easter following 9/11/01 and answers seemed in short supply.
This was preached as one of seven short homilies at an ecumenical service.
He said, ‘it is finished’ and he gave up his spirit.
The night before he was crucified, our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated the feast of the Passover with his family of choice. But, before he broke the bread, he washed their feet and he said, “remember what I have done for you … I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. By this shall the world know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.”
Actually, this “new commandment” was not entirely new. Jesus himself had said before,
Shema Yisroel – Hear, O Israel,
‘The Lord your God is one God
and you shall love the Lord Your God
with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.’
This is the first and great commandment
And the second is like unto it
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
Want to know what the bible says about something? Anything?
Love your neighbor. Not like your neighbor, mind you. That’s nice when it happens. It makes that whole loving thing so much easier and more pleasant. But we are not commanded to like, or feel affection for, one another. Or to piously pretend that we do.
We’re commanded to love. To take to heart the other’s best interest as if it were our own. To care about and for one another with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. Even when it means personal loss. Even when it means giving something up.
“Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.” Having done all he could do and suffered all he could suffer for us, he gave up all that was left – his spirit – for us. He chose to die, to let go his spirit, for love of us.
And today our Lord’s beloved people, his sisters and brothers – our sisters and brothers, through him and through Eve – fight and die. For pretty much the same reason people always have. For a place to call home. For a place to put down roots, to tend flocks, grow crops or do business, to raise children, worship God as they have been taught, to grow old and die and be returned to the earth from which they came. Both sides – all sides – of the conflict fight for these things.
And they also fight from the lust for revenge – born from the bitterness of lives lived in terror, dispossession, and indignity.
And we who live in the magnificent isolation of our wealth, ocean borders, and might of arms – we who have never (unless we are American Indians or Japanese Americans 60 or more years old) have never known any credible fear, much less the reality, of loss of our own home – our own land – we in this illusion of isolation have, perhaps, found it too easy to forget the plight of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East.
But, though we may not know the bitterness of dispossession, we have, in these last months, nonetheless, come to know something of the lust for revenge.
Perhaps our Christian discipline, that Love by which our Lord says we are to be known, perhaps that Love has helped us conquer the blood-lust. Perhaps some, maybe many, of us have turned aside from thoughts of revenge. But I doubt there are any among us who can say that the urge never entered their minds. We now know something, just a very little, about what it means to live with fear and insecurity. We know something about frustration, feelings of powerlessness, and the lust for revenge.
Perhaps it’s just a little harder to dismiss the devastating suffering that marks each day as something happening to those people – over there.
Perhaps we can remember that those people of Jesus – Arab and Israeli alike – are our people, too. And we can work with all our heart and spirit and mind and strength to figure out what it means to love them – and then do that.
I don’t know what that would mean giving up. Jesus gave up even his spirit.
Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.