| by the Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe
Bishop Emeritus of Kurunagala
( April 06, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today we celebrate the passion and the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great mysteries of our salvation. Thousands of years ago only a few people realised this truth. Majority of them saw his death as a tragedy, but our celebration today points out that it was not. However, even today we fail to recognise the salvific aspect of the passion of our Lord Jesus. Often we take it for granted, the salvation achieved through his cross. Let us ask pardon for the times we fail to realise the love he showed to us.
Hundreds of years before Jesus, Prophet Isaiah changes the understanding of the people regarding suffering. When they saw suffering as the curse of God, the prophet claimed that it was possible to suffer for the other. Further the letter to the Hebrews teaches us that how Jesus’ suffering of humiliation led to the revelation of the Glory of God. The passion narrative according to Saint John speaks about how Jesus chose to reveal the Glory of God through his suffering and death and how it fulfilled the prophesies while achieving the salvation of all humankind.
In one of the Lenten meditations, there was an award winning short story. To understand it, one had to picture in one’s mind Jesus returning home to his Father.
Welcome home Son,
It is so good to see you. It’s been a long time.
Yes, Father a very long time. It has been hard.
Hard as nails and hard as wood.
I know, what was the hardest ?
The kiss, Father the kiss (long pause)
Yes, come in and let me hold you.
That was the welcome of the Father. I was moved by two things in the story. The love of the father revealed in Jesus and the terrible evil of sin. This is the message of Good Friday .
The pierced side of Jesus opens to us the very heart of God. That is the greatest revelation of the cross: God loves us. Sometimes when we think of Jesus redeeming us, we use the language of a price paid for our sins and we think that it was a price extracted by a vengeful God. This is a distortion. The Father loves the Son and is present with him. As Saint Paul said; ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’. That is why ultimately Jesus surrenders himself into the hands of his Father.
What is Reconciliation
Reconciliation is a word that is most misunderstood and misquoted today in our country. As we all know there is a real need for this, as the fabric of our nation has been disturbed and torn apart due to the civil war that lasted for a long time. It is not our task here to see the good or the bad of it, but to be aware of the enormous damage that it caused to our people and the nation. The mistrust, the broken relationships, suspicion of each other, lack of care and concern, broken relationships, lack of trust and confidence, destruction of families and livelihoods, lack of information of the loved ones etc, have created a dark black cloud over us. Such a situation can only drift us further away from each other. The opposite that is needed today by way of rebuilding and renewal of our society cannot be done only by the development of infra structure or by continuous abductions and killings or for that matter by curtailing the of freedom of our people. On the contrary this can only happen by facilitating the opposite. Jesus sacrificed his life so that others may have life, irrespective of who they are or where they belong. It was certainly not by taking away people’s lives. Hence we need to affirm life both corporately and individually and campaign against the life denying factors in our society in the true spirit of Jesus and be ready for any sacrifice that we will be called upon to make.
Love gone mad ….
I once went to the home of a man whose only son died tragically, while only in his thirties. He brought back the body of his son who had been cremated and whose ashes he carried in an urn, all the way back home. When I entered he broke down and pointing to the urn, he tearfully stammered; “see what’s become of my son”. I could not help but weep with him. The incident also gave me an insight into the heart of God who loved the world so much, that He gave his only son, his most precious gift. And on that first Good Friday, He too could say to all of us as His son surrendered himself into His hands; “See what they have done to my Son”. However God never stopped loving us, forgiving us for the sins that sent his Son, to a blood stained Cross. This as St Alphonsus would say, is love gone mad. The only response one can make is to love in return. Love calls for love.
The indifference and the lack of care that we see all around us today in our society is because of the scarcity of love for our naighbours. Selfishness has brewed, in and around us to the extent of blinding us to the painful and agonising realities that overwhelm us. Greed has take over and for it’s own survival and sustanance deception is ruling the roost. Untruth is the order of the day. We are compelled to live in the hope of the black liberation song of, ‘ Truth shall overcome’. How ever let us not forget that it is the love of God that binds us together. The example of Jesus empowers us to love each other in the midst of conflict and hopelessness. Jesus was able to fulfill this in spite of the fact that He was betrayed by His own disciple, Judas.
Judas the Betrayer
The cross also reveals to us the evil of sin. He died for our sins. What wounds or damages the heart of God is our sin, the kiss of the betrayer. ‘Betrayal’ is a common theme that we see very much in the teachings of all religious traditions. This is also misquoted and misrepresented a lot, in our contemporary situation. People are being accused of being betrayers or traitors to the nation, simply because they do not condone the artificially created popular feelings and do not go with the mind of those who matter in our society. We are reminded of those leading characters in the Holy Scriptures, Pilot and Judas and their betrayals. Pilot betrayed Jesus in order to be on the good side of the opposing people, who have been misled by their religious and political leaders. He was further interested in safeguarding his own position, power and the privileges. On the other hand, Judas became a victim of those who were threatened by Jusus’ genuine popularity among people, entirely because of his greed for the silver coins. In fact he accepted a bribe and those who were concerned about their own positions and privileges were able to buy him off, with their unjustly earned money. Thus there is a conscious misconception about who a betrayer is. Are they the people who stand for the truth even as a minority, in the midst of a powerful opposing force or are they the people who continue to deceive the people and misguide them for their own selfish benefits and create an unhealthy and an alarming future for the people. Who ever it is ultimately the ordinary unarmed innocent people will have to face that future on their own, as the great savious will not be available to defend them when they really need their assistance. The people of the Jewish tradition did not realise this in their day and faced the consequences later. Our prayer is that this true and authentic revelation will reach the minds of our ordinary people, sooner than later. And that means all of us.
Sin and Broken Relationships
The real tragedy of our day is not that people sin. In every age people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Ours, however seems to be the only age that has lost the sense of sin. Sin is no trifling matter. It is not just innocent fun; it is not to be dismissed as human weakness or just the breaking of a commandment. It is not just breaking of a law but a complete and a permanent breaking of a relationship. It is the total rejection of God, of God’s love, of God’s offer to enter into a covenant with us. It is a stubborn refusal to be a son/ daughter of the father, a brother/ sister of Jesus, a temple of the Holy Spirit. The rejection of Jesus and his crucifixion are the ultimate expression of human sinfulness. If there is one thing that the cross must say to us, it is ‘sin no more’! The cost has been too much. It has cost the blood of the Son of God.
A thought that strikes all of us as we meditate on the passion is, when Jesus looks at us today, would he think it was worth it. Would he say; “It was worth laying down my life, shedding my blood for this man or for this woman, when I see the difference it has made in their lives; it has restored them to love, to peace, to union with God and with one another”. Or would he weep before his saying; ” They still don’t understand. They still wont accept our love. It doesn’t make a tiny difference to them. They live as if I had never died for them”.
Is the sacrifice worth ?
There are many who have sacrificed their lives in our society. Parents of all communities have sacrificed their sons and daughters, during the war. Young men or women have sacrificed their spouses. Children have sacrificed their parents. This list can go on and on. But the pertinent question remains unanswered. Have they given their lives in vain ? We can have many commemorations and honour them regularly. We can continue to remember and praise them for what they have done for us. Thank them profusely for the opportunity that we have today to move around freely without fear, anywhere in the country. But have we failed to understand this and pass on the benefits to our people. Then it appears that we have not understood this as yet. We still do not know how we can love those who have been committed to our care. It has not made that tiny difference to the ordinary people, as selfishness has taken precedence over responsibility.
It appears that every decision is taken to enhance corruption, propagate untruth and to deceive people. There is one appeal that we can make in the name the one who sacrificed his life so that others may have life. That is, to turn away from sin. Come home to the heart of God. Try to understand and reveal the truth. It is only then that we can be satisfied that the benefits of the sacrifices that have been made, have been passed on to the people. May God grant us wisdom, desire and courage to ensure this. May the Cross of Christ show us the way to reveal the truth in our world.