Jill was a woman I used to know who refused to come to church on Good Friday as she found it just too sad. Of course, it is sad, immensely sad, that God had to go to such lengths to show us his love. But for me it is always a day of great joy, despite the sadness I always feel; because faced with all the cruelty and tragedy of our world, I know that God’s love is stronger and greater, that despite appearances to the contrary God has won the battle for us against all that is evil and dark in our poor old world.
But what can we do to respond to such love? How can we hope to say or do anything to show how grateful we are that Jesus has died for us in this horrible way? Can I suggest that it is worth looking at some of the Stations of the Cross around the walls of every Catholic Church for an answer to this. Three people stand out for me : Mary his holy mother, Simon of Cyrene and Veronica.
Lets look at Veronica first. Her story is not in the Bible but has been passed down in the tradition of the Church for centuries. It is said that as Jesus passed by carrying his cross she was moved with compassion and ignoring the soldiers rushed out of her house and wiped the sweat and blood off his face. In one sense this was a pointless gesture. Jesus still had to stagger on and he still ended up bleeding and dying on the cross. But surely that’s not the point. We all face times when there is nothing practical we can do to help a friend facing trouble or sickness. All we can do is show them we care. We can visit them or phone them and let them share their sadness with us, or we can send them a card or a little present. None of these things solves their problems, but we all know nonetheless that such gestures really matter. They do make a difference. Such little acts of love and kindness matter.
The story of Simon of Cyrene being forced by the soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross is in the Bible, but the tradition of the Church is that it changed his life, and that his family thereafter were among the first to follow the Christian way. So, as we think of Simon, we must look in a new way at the things we are forced to do by law or by circumstances. These are the things we moan about – going to work when we would rather stay at home, paying our taxes when we would rather spend the money on ourselves, or cleaning and tidying the house (or our room) when we would rather be doing something else. The story of Simon of Cyrene reminds us that it is worth re-thinking our attitude to such things. Think how indignant he was at being dragged out of the crowd and forced to do this horrible job. Remember he was black, so think how annoying it is when people in authority treat us badly.
Somehow God was able to help Simon transform his indignation into a new way of looking at life, and surely that’s what we should ask God to do for us. Faced with a job we are not too keen on, or on our Tax Return, or that boring housework, we must try to see each such things as an opportunity to respond to God’s love. Think of the story of Brother Lawrence who learnt to practise the presence of God while scrubbing the kitchen floor or cleaning the lavatories! We too should try to see even the lowliest job as an offering of love to God.
Then there is Our Lady. We see her meeting Jesus on the road first of all. There he is in all his struggle and pain, and suddenly his mother is there in front of him. For a brief moment they look into each other’s eyes before the soldiers push her aside, but we believe that this brief moment of recognition was a tremendous support to Jesus on this last journey. We know too that she then stood at the foot of the cross whilst he died. Again, there was nothing she could do except be there, but in this moment it was her son Jesus who gave her action a meaning that resounds through history. He said to John, and thus through him to every Christian, “Behold your mother”.
Mary shows us how we too can be used by God when we appear to do nothing. Just being there for someone can sometimes be enough. How often do we take our family and friends for granted, and yet when faced with some trouble, the fact that they are there is so important. Let us accept Mary as our mother, a gift from the dying Jesus, and let us be like Mary to our family and friends, so that they know that when troubles come, we will be there for them as she was.
So although there is no sufficient way of responding fully to the love God shows us from the cross, there are many little things we can do, and as Jesus said “Whatever you do for others, you do for me”