I couldn’t pass up the convergence of Annunciation and Good Friday. This is my homily from Good Friday.
Today we have a rare convergence of two commemorations in the Christian calendar. One moves and the other is fixed. Good Friday changes year after year due to its connection with Easter, which is a moveable feast day. The Feast of the Annunciation is fixed.
Even in our reform tradition we’re aware of Good Friday. Annunciation not so much. Annunciation commemorates the day Mary learned from the angel Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end… therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:30b-33, 35c)
At the time of Jesus, although nowhere mentioned in the Bible, Jewish tradition believed that the conception date of great personages coincided with their death dates. Very early in the Church’s history, a tradition grew to believe that Jesus died on March 25, which coincided with the creation and fall of Adam as well as Israel passing through the Red Sea and the binding of Isaac. Given March 25 as the date of Jesus’ conception in Mary by the Holy Spirit, Christmas, his birth, is December 25.
I’m trying to imagine what it must have been like for Mary on that Good Friday. The death of her firstborn son coming on the anniversary of her learning that she will bear God’s son.
It must have been overwhelming for her to assent to God’s call. Although betrothed to Joseph she was unmarried, thus bringing scorn and shame. At the same time she would bear God’s son. She would raise God’s son. How do you be a mother to God’s son?
Then, what does it mean to see your son die an excruciatingly slow and painful death on a cross? This is your son, whom God entrusted into your care. Would you wonder if you did enough to protect him? Would God be disappointed in you? On the other hand, you witnessed him serve others in love and to stand against the powers of the day to promote peace and justice rooted in radical, inclusive, steadfast love. That would make you proud. Would you also wonder, though, why his ministry caused the authorities to execute him using the cross, an instrument of terror reserved for enemies of the state. How does speaking truth to power threaten the state?
Today offers us some especially reflective possibilities for the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter’s new birth. However, let’s not rush the end of Lent or the start of Easter. Let’s sit in today. Today is a liminal time, a time between a beginning represented by the Annunciation and an ending with Jesus on the cross. Today, we ponder the many contradictions between our world and God’s realm, heaven on earth. Why does the pursuit of God’s peace and justice threaten an order resting upon scarcity instead of abundance and the primacy of the individual over the common good? How is it that the cross, representing tools of destruction, was seen as a pathway towards peace rather than the bread and the cup? Why do those with outsized power prefer to preserve the social order through fear rather than love?
The contradictions between the world in which we live now and the world which Jesus doggedly pursued through his ministry are blatantly exposed on Good Friday. But coupled with the Annunciation those contradictions are magnified because today we also remember the promise that the man hanging on the cross is no less than the Son of God in whom we invest all of our hopes and dreams. Gazing up at his scourged and twisted near-naked body wracked in pain, we wonder if the ways of this world will ever prevail. How do we save the one who saves us? Are we like Mary, too? Shouldn’t we ask isn’t there something I can do? Have I done enough? Is this death a sign of God’s disappointment in me?
Let’s also ask why Jesus didn’t come down from the cross. After all he was God. Doesn’t God have the power to save himself? We can offer the explanation that Jesus on the cross was symbolic of his dual nature, divine and human. Indeed, in the very early centuries of the church that distinction was made with the Nestorians who tried to emphasize that it was Jesus on the cross, not Christ. That position was deemed heretical because Jesus was both divine and human. Jesus and God were of the same essence, but not the same person. Let’s also not go to the usual trope, “Jesus died for our sins” because that absolves us of our sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world that continues to crucify Jesus today. It’s cheap grace.
Rather, let’s frame Jesus on the cross as love. Love, Jesus’ love for humankind, sent him to the cross. Peter Abelard, an 11th Century theologian, wrote, “By the faith which we hold concerning Christ love is increased in us, by virtue of the conviction that God in Christ has united his human nature to himself and, by suffering in that same nature, has demonstrated to us that perfection of love…”
Today, we reconcile love: its contradictions, its messiness, its giftedness, its obligations. Today we remember Mary’s assent to raise God’s son and the enormous obligation that it entailed. We see that Jesus’ death on the cross and his refusal to come down from it as the greatest demonstration of love for us because of his willingness to die as the ultimate challenge to injustice. In Jesus we come to recognize the power love has for transformation because it frightens those who stand to lose authority and privilege which prompts them to use violent means to stop it.
Today, let’s pause. This particular convergence won’t happen again until 2157. It’s worth not rushing through Lent in anticipation of Easter. We’re in a liminal time. It’s good to ponder the two worlds, ours and God’s, which meet on this day. It’s right to feel the conflict when joy collides with sorrow as we wait together and ruminate on love.
 Peter Abelard. Peter Abailard: Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (An Excerpt from the Second Book). From A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham. Edited by Eugene R. Fairweather. Westminster Press:Philadelphia 1956. Page 278