"We have entered into the three most sacred days of the year. By these three days all the world is called to attention. everything that is and ever was and ever will be, the macro and the micro, the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice-everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened, what happens, in these days. This is the axis mundi, the center upon which the cosmos turns. The alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the life of all on this day dies. Stay awhile with that dying."
Thus wrote Richard John Neuhaus in a not so little book entitled "Death on a Friday Afternoon" as he begins a series of reflections on the seven last words of Christ.
He goes on to invite us to linger a little longer on this Friday's events. "on the cross we find out who we most truly are, because here on the One who is what we are called to be...we like to hurry on to Easter, but we will not know what to do with Easter's light if we shun the friendship of darkness...he bows his head and breathes his last. Here is a synopsis of what Fr Neuhaus has to say:
These three days are about Atonement: at-one-ment. Whatever the theory of atonement, at the heart of it, forgiveness cost.
Atonement involves a few simple truths:
1)Something very bad has happened. Something has gone wrong with us and with the world of which we are part. The world is not and we are not what we know was meant to be. Something is awry and we know this by the long history horrible realities from death camps of Auschwitz to the slaying of innocent children in Connecticut, from human trafficking and slavery to the holocaust of killing babies in the womb, we know something is not right with us.
This reality of something gone wrong shows up daily from the habits of compromise, loves betrayed, lies excused, dreams deferred, marriage beds defiled, promises forsaken, lawsuits and liabilities, sexual exploitation, fraud, running a stop light and excessive speeding, to drinking and driving, and the list go on and on. Something is not right.
2) We are complicit in what has gone so terribly wrong. It is easier to look at world class criminals, murders, drug traffickers and point the finger and and exclaim we aren't that bad. Yet, we too have ownership in the problem. It is difficult to face up to our complicity because the confession of sins does not come easy. Only the dulling of moral imagination prevents us from seeing how we are implicated in the complex web of human evil. We rightly condemn the great moral monsters of history-hitlers, stalin and the like. But we must not forget the words of Christ, 'he who looks at a woman with lust commits adultery in his heart. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart.
All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary.
What ever the measure of guilt, we are all responsible.
3)Something must be done about this that has gone awry. Things must be set right. We can not go on this way of destruction
4) What ever it is that needs to be done, we cannot do it. Each of us individually, the entirety of the human race collectively-what can we do to make up for one innocent child killed, not mention the death camps and slaughtering grounds that have plagued the pages of history.
If things are to be set right, if justice is to be done, somebody else will have to do it. It cannot be done by just anybody, as though one more death could somehow "make up for" innocent deaths beyond numbering.
We need a scapegoat. And history is filled with scapegoats. Lord commanded Moses that Aaron should bring the goat before the Lord and Aaron should lay both his hands upon the head of the living goat and confess over him all the sins and iniquities of the people of Israel and then send the goat away into the wilderness.
The goat must die. Something must be done, But forgiveness isn't cheap because then our trespass wouldn't matter at all. Forgiveness coat-it must cost-or our trespass doesn't matter. But our history tells us every sin matters, every trespass counts, every iniquities afflicts the human race deeply.
But we cannot set things right, we cannot set ourselves right, never mind the world-who then?
The act must be done by someone not responsible fro what has gone wrong; it must be done by an act perfectly gratuitous, perfectly free; the cat must be done by one who embodies everything, whose life is not one life among many, but is life itself-a life that is our life and the life of all who have ver lived and ever will live. Who is this one?
"In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with GOd, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with GOd; all things were made through him, and with out him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
He who is light and life plunges headlong into darkness and death and does so in perfect freedom. It is his mission as he tell us, "no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord, "he said, "I have power to lay it dow, and I have power to take it again, this charge i received from my father."
In perfect freedom the Son becomes the goat, the lamb of God condemned by the lies to bear witness to the truth. GOd does not just take our part, he takes our place.
As st paul reminds us, "for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might becomes the righteousness of God." God must become what we are in order that we might becomes what God is. To effectively take our part he must take our place. Thus God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
This day we realize it is the world in need of reconciling to God's justice not God to the world's justice.
The true Crisis is not in justifying God's ways to us, but in justifying our ways to God.
"he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.:
Atonement:at-one-with. What has been separated by an abyss of wrong has been reconciled by the deed of perfect love. What the first Adam destroyed the second Adam restored, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." We knew not what we did, but today we come to our senses.
Today, here at the cross, our eyes are fixed on the dying one who is the Lord of life. We look at the one who is everything that we are and everything that we are not, the One who is true man and true God.
In him, God and man are perfectly one. At-one-ment. Here, through the cross, we have come home, home to the truth about ourselves, home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good.