I suspect that most of us remember those “Good Friday” events in our lives. If you have yet to have one, you will.
Monday in Paris, watching Notre Dame Cathedral burn was one of those “Good Friday” moments for so many people around the world.
My first and my most devastating “Good Friday” moment happened when I was a young man. It happened on a Friday evening in the hospital room that I had visited as often as I could during those last three months.
I was a senior in college seminary with Maryknoll. I would drive the three round-trip three, four and even five times a week.
Dr. Kubler Ross had not yet written her famous book on death and dying. Hospice not yet been founded. There were no cancer support groups. There was only the slow, painful agony of dying with cancer.
I was at the hospital with my sister Rita. My dad had gone home to take a break and get some rest. I had arrived in the late afternoon fighting rush-hour traffic in Chicago.
I remember the sterile look of the room and the harshness of the fluorescent lights. My sister Rita was standing on one side of the bed and I on the other. Our mom, Ruth, was very quiet, unlike the evening before when she was very agitated and in much pain.
She was breathing ever so slightly. Then, about 6:30 PM, mom quietly and almost imperceptibly, stopped breathing.
We both began to cry, something I was not accustomed to doing. That happened 50 years ago this May 16th.
Easter can only be truly understood through the crucible of the cross, through the lens of Good Friday in its horror, shame and utter, total destruction of all hope.
The one who WAS hope, had been brutally beaten, scourged, mocked by the soldiers and the crowds and then hung upon the ultimate instrument of torture as a common criminal. There he hung, a spectacle to all with only his grieving mother, Mary’s sister and Mary of Magdalene and only one of his closest friends. The rest had fled.
When dead, his side was ignominiously thrust through with a lance by a Roman soldier and from his broken body poured blood and water. Emptied of everything, they took down the body of Jesus and placed it in a tomb in the garden and rolled the stone to seal the tomb.
That was it. The end. Death.
Or so they thought.
“That first day of the week, Mary of Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.’”
Peter and John run to the tomb. It is empty. They must have been so confused. Why would anybody steal the body? Why was the burial cloth that covered his face rolled up in a separate place from the other burial cloths?
It made no sense to them. Or as the last line of today’s gospel states: “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
Nobody rises from the dead. Nobody, that is except Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity.
I know where my mom is buried. Every time I return to Chicago, I go visit her grave at Holy Sepulcher Catholic Cemetery on the south side of Chicago. My dad is also buried there next to my mom.
I know where Mohammed the prophet is buried, under the green dome in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
We know that Buddha’s body was cremated in Kushinagar, India.
We know that Joseph Smith, founder and leader of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Church is buried in Nauvoo, Illinois.
But the tomb of Jesus is empty.
Not only that, we have eyewitness testimony as we heard in our first reading: “God raised him on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance… Jesus commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
Over and over again in sacred Scripture, and also in historical documents from Josephus the Roman historian, we have proof that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, as he said he would.
“So what,” you may or many people you know, may ask?
Maybe you, or least many people that you and I know, may ask, “What difference does believing that Jesus rose from the dead really make? My life is just fine without it.”
Why does it make a difference? The same reason that Notre Dame is not just another building. It is not only an icon of humanity’s greatest aspirations and accomplishments, a repository of beauty almost beyond belief, but most importantly that for over 850 years this church has been alive with celebration of the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Even the desecration of this sacred space during the reign of terror of the French Revolution which turned it into the temple of reason, could not kill its life, for its life was and is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead celebrated in Holy Eucharist.
This is what makes every church special and alive, no matter how grand or how humble. It is living faith in the risen Jesus that fashions us into the Church, the living Body of Christ as St. Paul preaches.
That “Good Friday” tragedy of Monday, seeing the flames consume Notre Dame with its beautiful spire crashing into the flames below was met the next day by a picture of the main altar and the cross with smoke still rising from the burning timbers.
The cross seemed to glow behind the altar, still standing proudly amidst the rubble on the Cathedral floor. No longer a symbol of death and destruction, but rather a symbol of what it truly is, resurrection, new life in Jesus Christ, life eternal.
My dear sisters and brothers, as we gather this morning in our beautifully renovated church building, let us be fashioned by this Holy Eucharist into the Church, the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, alive today.
Let us go forth from this holy place to be, like Mary Magdalene, Peter and John and those early Christians, witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ by how we live our lives each day.
Let us return here next week and each Sunday to be fed with the Word of God and with the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Let our lives be fashioned by the risen Christ so that, like the shining cross in the smoke-filled ruins of Notre Dame, we too might shine in our world that is so often filled with tragedy, destruction, cruelty, greed and indifference.
Let us proclaim with our lives that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelua!