I spent Good Friday in a community that has had a lot of suffering. There have been a good number of killings there in the last few years, including one a few months ago. About a month ago the police came into the village in the middle of the night and arrested two people, but let a woman accused of being a gang member free after finding no tattoos on her body. In addition, one person accused had fled. The accusations are probably false.
We started about 10 am with the Vía Crucis, the Stations of the Cross , in the middle of some coffee fields. The people carried bougainvillea, which people here call napoleono, and left a few branches at each place where we prayed.
The text of our third station, Jesus falls the first time, recalls the devastation of the earth. As we prayed I looked at the nearby hills with new coffee plants and very few trees. I wondered if they had burnt the land before planting the new coffee.
As we walked along, I noted that the kids (and some adults) found berries on bushes at the side of the road. A Good Friday treat - though they did have thorns on them, as I tried to retrieve a few for the kids.
After the stations, they gave me a simple lunch – tortilla, beans, rice – which filled me. I then sat down to prepare the afternoon Celebration of the Passion. I dozed off in the process – since I had gotten to bed late on Thursday night and awakened early.
At the Celebration, despite the length of the reading of the Passion, I gave a short reflection, noting the deaths, the pain, that the community has been experiencing.
As I said in a homily at a funeral a few months ago, I urged them to lay everything at the foot of the Cross – the pain, the tears, resentment, the desire for revenge – so that they may be transformed by Jesus, crucified and risen. I also urged them to follow the example of Jesus and forgive – not failing to call for justice, but for a justice based in love, a justice that seeks the transformation of the person.
This year my reflections are very much influenced by Father Ronald Rolheiser’s The Passion and the Cross where he writes:
Jesus, as the Lamb of God, does not take away the sin of the world by somehow carrying it off so that it is no longer present inside of the community. Nor does he take it away by paying off a debt to God for Adam’s sin and ours. He takes it away by transforming it, by taking it inside of him and not giving it back. An image can be helpful in explaining this: What Jesus did in his death, in the way he died in love, is analogous to what a water filter does. It takes in water that contains impurities, dirt, toxins, and occasional poisons. The filter does not simply let the water flow through it, as does an electrical cord; rather the water filter holds the dirt and toxins inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. In simple language, Jesus took away the sin of the world by taking in hatred and giving back love; by taking in anger and giving out graciousness; by taking in envy and giving back blessing; by taking in bitterness and giving out warmth; by taking in pettiness and giving back compassion; by taking in chaos and giving back peace; and by taking in sin and giving back forgiveness.
Though I think this could be difficult and perhaps even dangerous, if not based in the power and grace of Christ, he also urges us:
What is most important here is that this is not something we are asked to simply admire. We are asked to imitate it, to do in our lives what Jesus did and, in this way, keep incarnate the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are asked to go into our families, communities, churches, and civil society, where always there is tension, and become the shock absorbers and water filters that absorb the sin and don’t give it back. Our task, too, is to help take away the sins of the world. We do this whenever we take in hatred, anger, envy, pettiness, and bitterness and hold them, transmute them, and eventually give them back as love, graciousness, blessing, compassion, warmth, and forgiveness.
I’m not sure that our task is to help take away the sins of the world as much as to open ourselves and others to the loving and transforming power of the crucified Jesus who died and was raised.
As I think I said that afternoon, Christ gave us life so that we might have new life. I pray that the community may be open to that new life – in the face of death and suffering.
May the hope of the Risen Lord sustain them (and me), even as we live in Holy Saturday, a day of waiting and longing.