(Good Friday 2017: This homily was given on April 14, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, RI, by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; also read the Passion Narrative of St. John.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Good Friday 2017]
“From head to toe” God loves us. That’s the powerful message of the cross of Jesus Christ. We often say that Jesus died to save our souls—and that’s right, he did die to save our souls.
But not our souls only! Our Lord poured out his blood on Calvary 2,000 years ago to redeem our bodies as well, since our bodies also suffer from the consequences of sin—especially in physical death.
And our bodies are destined to be raised up—resurrected—at the end of human history.
The bottom line is that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, has redeemed us in the totality of our personhood: soul AND body. Or, to put it another way, he’s redeemed each of us literally from the top of our head to the tips of our toes.
And this is visibly attested to by the wounds he suffered on Good Friday. You know, God could have chosen to redeem us and bring us forgiveness in some other way. As St. Augustine once said, “Other possible means were not lacking on God’s part, because all things are equally subject to his power” (On the Trinity 8:10). And, as St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “It was possible for God to deliver mankind otherwise than by the passion of Christ, because nothing shall be impossible for God (cf. Luke 1:37).”
But it was fitting that the Lord redeemed us as he did. First of all, it was fitting because with our wounded human nature we can all tend to doubt the love of God at times—and the cross of Jesus makes the love of God crystal clear: “Greater love than this nobody has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”
And, secondly, it was fitting that Jesus redeemed us in this way because the wounds he suffered on Good Friday 2,000 years ago point us to the sins that we need to be forgiven for and redeemed from today, in 2017.
His head, for example, was crowned with thorns, for our sins of mind and speech: for the angry thoughts, the violent thoughts, the lustful thoughts, the selfish and greedy thoughts—and for the words that come out of our mouths because of those thoughts.
In a sense you could say that all these sins of thought and word can be forgiven, because of that wound.
His hands were pierced with nails, for all the sins we’ve committed with our hands. There’s an old saying, “Sow a thought, reap an action.” Jesus’ head was crowned with thorns for our bad thoughts, and his hands were wounded for the sinful actions that proceed from those thoughts.
The skin of his back was literally torn to shreds in the scourging they gave him before the crucifixion. Because of those wounds we can be forgiven for the times when we’ve turned our backs on God, and on members of our families, and on other people in need.
His heart was pierced with a lance, to bring us forgiveness for the times that we haven’t loved God with all our heart; for the times we’ve put other things—and other people—before the Lord; for the times we’ve missed Mass without a good reason; for the days we’ve said we were “too busy” to pray.
And, finally, his feet were nailed to the cross for the times we’ve failed to avoid the near occasion of sin in our lives: for the times that our feet have taken us into—and not away from—situations where we knew we’d be tempted to do things that we shouldn’t do.
So today, above all else, is a day to be grateful—extremely grateful. It’s a day to thank God for choosing to redeem us in such a powerful and meaningful way. That gratitude, of course, if it’s real, will ultimately lead us to repentance—and to the sacrament of Penance—to receive the mercy that Jesus was wounded in these ways to give us.
Hopefully we all do that on a regular basis.
I’ll conclude now with a poem I wrote during Lent this year. It summarizes, I would say, the message I just shared with you in this homily. It’s entitled, appropriately enough, “From Head to Toe,” and it goes like this:
A halo not of light divine
But of thorns to pierce his head—
For all my sins of thought and word
Which I too little dread.
Hands that healed the sick and lame
And calmed the raging sea—
Nailed for the times my selfish hands
Have served well only me.
His back is torn to shreds with whips,
Leaving a bloody mess—
For the times I’ve turned my back on him
And my neighbor in distress.
His heart filled with a precious love
Which the world cannot contain—
Pierced with a lance because my heart
Is to its passions chained.
His feet which walked on water,
Now to a cross are firmly bound,
For the many times my feet have gone
Where sin I often found.
From head to toe his body
Hanging there on Calvary,
Proclaims the saving message that
God gave his all for me.