To enter into the fullness of existence that is life with Jesus Christ, we must begin by honestly and humbly bring ourselves before God – that was the message of Archbishop Leo Cushley on Good Friday 2019.
“God needs to transform us, to open for us the gates of paradise, and to make our fleeting lives here no longer a shadow, but a reality,” said the Archbishop at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh, 19 April.
“We place ourselves in silence, and in truth, before the Cross of Christ, and as we come forward to kiss it, we need do nothing, we can do nothing better, than be honest with ourselves before our God.”
The packed service at the Cathedral included the veneration of the holy cross by the congregation followed by the distribution of Holy Communion. Archbishop Cushley’s homily is reproduced in full below:
Homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh
Solemn Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, 2019
St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh
In our heart of hearts, we all of us know that we are not the people we would like to be. We also know that, in spite of the joy of life, we all know that we must face death. Adam and Eve come to symbolize that for our culture and our religion, our first fathers and mothers, fallen through human weakness, cast out of paradise and condemned to a hard life and a hard death. They were cast out of God’s love and God’s own life, and they were buried in the earth far outside the eternal garden of paradise. The beautiful and tragic story of Genesis is one that we will return to tomorrow night. The science of the universe’s origins is a wonderful but distinct adventure; the truth that Genesis contains is about our fragile, mortal human condition and it is all too evident to each of us when we are honest with ourselves. We are made for life and for love, but we fail, just like the old Adam.
Christ, however, is the new Adam. His life and his death are not a part of the same tragedy, but a step above and beyond. His life is a new beginning for us, and his death breaks death’s grip on us, forever. He is the new man, who opens wide his arms on the cross, and in doing so he throws open the gates of paradise that had been sealed shut to us from time immemorial.
The Word of God reminds us that, in spite of our mortality, we are made for life not death, and in Christ raised up on the Cross we see God’s path for us back to paradise.
The Word of God today starts with the simple declaration “See, my servant will prosper,” and in the next line, “he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights”. We look at the cruelty of the Cross and the silence of the tomb. We are distracted by the horror and gloom of what we see, and yet what we are looking at is not the beginning of death but the beginning of life! One famous author a long time ago said, “Before I came to believe in Christ, I simply didn’t exist”. Today is a day for believing in Jesus Christ, in his life-giving death. Today is a day for embracing not extinction, but existence.
Today isn’t about death; it’s about life, real life. Before Christ died in this way, in this world, in this history of ours, we were all condemned to die like Adam. But since Christ’s death on Calvary, the challenge has been to look again at this moment in time, and to see it for what it truly is: a moment of decision, an appeal to our faith and our love, and to grasp it as an opportunity to exist again, as real and complete human beings.
What is on offer here, today at the foot of the Cross, is to become again children of God through faith in Jesus, the servant of God. Jesus has thrown open to us the wonderful, unexpected, unlooked-for possibility of being fully human again. We who are children of the old Adam can become children of the new Adam, sons and daughters in the Son, and all we need to start the journey is a little faith in Jesus, the suffering servant of God. We need to see afresh that here, high on the Cross, is God’s faithful servant. God means him to prosper, and having been lifted up on the Cross, he will rise to even greater heights from the tomb. And God means us to prosper too.
Jesus, in one of his stories (cf. Luke 18:9-14), recounts how a notorious sinner who came in to pray, just sat up the back, and never dared even to raise his eyes to heaven. And with his head bowed, all he said was, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Jesus says that that man went home at rights with God, with his sins forgiven. What had the man done that was so extraordinary? The answer is, nothing: he had simply been honest with God and with himself, and that is the only thing God needs from us. I remember hearing one of the Pope’s chaplains saying this on Good Friday a number of years ago: this great sinner simply placed himself “in truth before God, and that is all God needs to act”.
To stand in truth before God.
This is the day when we remember solemnly God’s great mercy for us. He refuses us nothing, not even the death of his own Son on the Cross for us. He opens the gates of paradise for the new Adam, and he restores us to life through him. We place ourselves in silence, and in truth, before the Cross of Christ, and as we come forward to kiss it, we need do nothing, we can do nothing better, than be honest with ourselves before our God. We make our own the prayer of the notorious sinner; and we repeat with him, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
Today we place ourselves before Christ on the Cross; in doing so we place ourselves simply before Him, in truth, for that is all God needs to transform us, to open for us the gates of paradise, and to make our fleeting lives here no longer a shadow, but a reality.