The Beginning and the End

The Passion According to John

It’s a rather unusual day. Yes it is Good Friday but maybe somewhat providential, if you follow the Church calendar March 25th is actually the day that we normally celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. It rarely happens that the two coincide and won’t happen again for decades, but here we are today. Of course, that feast gets pushed back until after Easter but there are striking similarities as we mark Good Friday. It’s the day that the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, converge into this one event. But there is more. The one that remains consistent through the story is Mary. The angel Gabriel appears and announces the news of the Christ, tells her not to fear, behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word. All of that, along with the basic human reactions with fear, that of doubt and questioning what this message is all about.

Then there’s today, Good Friday, and we meet Mary at the foot of the cross. What the heck was that message from Gabriel all about? Is this really what God had planned for His Son? Probably much of what Mary had experienced at the beginning she now encounters at the end, questioning God’s plan and wondering what all of this can mean. It’s easy to say that she knew. She was with him through it all and the disciples were there to follow and heard the stories and the predictions. But, in our deepest grief and loss, none of that seems to matter. All we know is pain and rejection in that moment.

But then there’s also Jesus. How the heck did he get to this point? He too questions from the Garden to the Cross what all of this means and whether it’s necessary in this way. We all know that he didn’t do anything wrong. Even Pilate claims him not to be a criminal. Yet, there he hangs, before his mother, watching in disbelief of the horrific way he is to die. But he seems to have backed everyone into a corner. No one wants to take responsibility. No one wants blood on their hands because they know there’d be an all out revolt among the people. John tells us that Jesus simply is here to testify to the truth. And yet, for those in authority in these institutions, Pilate and the political authority and the Chief Priests and Pharisees want to bear no responsibility for what is to unfold. He becomes a victim of their own game and they manage to turn the people against him. Death is looming. Grief is stricken. The end is beginning for this man, Jesus.

There are many theories as to why this all happens in this way. We’ve heard them all and have come to believe many of them. Sure, there is dying for our sins and setting us free from sin and death. That is all true and part of the truth. But like Pilate and the Pharisees, we also like to end it there, bearing no responsibility for following him all the way, only to find ourselves falling short when we get to the cross. For Mary and the disciples, the message that has been consistent all along has been to follow him. That’s it! And yet, when we become overwhelmed by the darkness of our lives, our inclination is to be like the disciples at this point. We fall back to what we know and we seek to please, going along with the crowd yelling, crucify him! All seems lost. Darkness hangs in the balance now. Mary, may it be done to me, now stands by idly, watching her son die. It can’t be easy. His pain is her pain and her pain is his. Every parent knows what that is like as you watch your sons and daughters suffer in different ways. Is it any wonder we turn away and try, and that’s all we can do, is try to return to a normal life. But normal life is no longer.

It is the beginning and the end. Despite the pain and hardship, Mary and Jesus remain faithful to that command of turning it over to the Father. May it be done to me. And maybe that’s the point. None of us would ever choose to do it ourselves, but rather, only by the grace of God I shall go, not coming up short, but all the way to the cross. It’s so hard to see beyond that threshold that it creates for us. We become victims of our own hurt and suffering that when we’re in that moment, we lose sight of the light and the life that is promised us. Then more than ever is faith necessary and to reconnect to our larger story, the story of the Passover, the story of the great Paschal Mystery. As generations pass it’s easy to disconnect from the lived reality, yet, it is the only way to persevere as we stand at the foot of the cross with Mary, reminded, in faith, of the life to come.

There is something different about this day. It is the beginning and the end, as well as the beginning of the end as we face yet another threshold before us. We imagine ourselves at the foot of the cross with Mary, silently uttering her prayer and the prayer of Jesus, may it be done to me according to your will, not my will but your will be done. In a world plagued by injustice and abuse of power, it truly is only the truth that will set us free, even in the face of such suffering. God suffers with us this day and weaps with us as we continue to try to back God into a corner to do something, anything, so that like Pilate and the Chief Priests, we can stand idly by watching the suffering of our world, not wanting blood on our hands. Yet, we already do when love and mercy escapes us. It is the challenge of Good Friday and an even greater challenge when the beginning and the end converge on this day. All we can do is stand with Mary and pray with Mary that God’s will be done and that my life too may testify to this truth, that, in the end, love and mercy will always endure.

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