Posted by: Fr Chris | April 2, 2010

Good Friday Vespers Sermon

When our Lord was lifted up on the cross, in that sudden terrible jolt, he cried out in agony as the cross was raised with his body nailed fast to its rough wood, then it went down into the hole with a most terrible pounding, and He hung there in the wind and under the sun. Scripture says that was cold the night before, and that Peter makes his triple denial of Jesus while standing at the fires in the courtyard of the high priest during the so-called trial. Jesus’ mother and John, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other women named Mary were all standing watching but could not get near Him. So it was weather like what we have tonight – cold and windy, and tomorrow, bright but windy and dry, the dry that sucks all moisture of a naked man nailed to a wooden cross.

In scripture, all creation responds to the crucifixion – the sun is darkened for three hours over Jerusalem at a time when an eclipse is physically impossible because of the alignment of the earth and moon; there is an earthquake that rips rocks apart when Jesus dies. It reflects the theology that says that creation weeps, and groans as the son of God is crucified in the center of the world, Jerusalem.

There are stories about Jesus and his creation, and one is this: some little brown birds wept to see the creator suffer. And so they flew to this cross, and tried to lift up the helmet of thorns that had been jammed into Jesus’ skull and caused such copious bleeding and terrible pain. But an angel came to the birds and said, “No, don’t try to do this, because if it is pulled out of His skull, the shock will kill him, and the Lord has things to say yet to his people.” And the birds were saddened, and streaked with blood. But then one of the birds had a thought, which he shared with the others, and the birds gathered on the wooden beam of the cross and sang to Christ, as the blood dripped down from his hands and the helmet of thorns. And God the Father saw what they did to try and encourage His Son in his great suffering, and He bent down and touched the birds and told them, “From now on you and your children will have red chests, in remembrance of this precious blood and of how you comforted the maker of the world” and thus God made robins. Whenever I look at one, I see an animal who sought to bring joy in the face of the worst suffering imaginable on the face of the earth, the suffering of our innocent Victim who becomes the Victor through his self-giving death on this cross.

He gave his blood at the last supper as a sign of the new covenant, this covenant that we have been baptized into. He will pour out his blood after his death, along with water, in a gush of life-giving blood and water from his side torn open by the spear of a Roman soldier.

Matthew says that after the procession, the burial procession of the two leaders of the Jewish people Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who came forward to claim the sacred body, with the company of young teen-aged John, the only apostle who stayed with Christ, and Mary the weeping Mother of God,  and the holy women collected together for a sad procession to the new tomb – even in the words “a new tomb in which no one had been laid” creating an echo in our minds of the womb of Mary which had never known a child until this most holy Child, and never knew any other child just as Jesus’ tomb would never know any other body –, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sit and wait and watch outside the sealed cave, that earthen womb, facing it. Which is what we are going to do tonight and tomorrow, in imitation of those two holy women – we will sit and watch.

Jesus who has been tortured and humiliated, Jesus who is weak and falls many times tearing his knees and shoulders, Jesus who is in agony with the searing pain in his head, Jesus who will try to love those who weep for him, Jesus who is our love, Jesus who is our joy, Jesus who is our life – let us sit in front of Him tonight and tomorrow in vigil, in watch.

Ask Him to show us what each of us must be delivered from that is killing our souls and helping to break God’s creation, and hear Him who suffered in such an incredibly lonely way speak to us, who do not have to suffer alone, but who are accompanied by this same Jesus if we will open our ears and hearts and close our mouths and silence all the phones, computers, and gadgets tonight and tomorrow and hear Him.

If only we open the doors of hearts and let Him pierce our souls not with thorns but with deep longing for Him, a longing that will last!

Even the birds knew that this crucifixion was something unique – a willing sacrifice. Not the pagan religions of the past, not the temple ritual of killing animals, but a unique divine and human blood poured out in the chalice, poured out on the wood, poured out of his side, not to some triumphant dictator, but rather this sacred victim defeats Satan forever and will unlock all the seals of sin.

It is up to us to hear his voice tonight and listen closely to this crucified savior of ours. What is it, my Jesus, that I do which continues the power of sin in the world? What is it that I say, Lord, that continues hatred and prejudice? What is it that I feel, O Lord which should be dug out of my heart and replaced with the loving touch of your hand into my heart?

Behold – Jesus invites us into His side, to see His broken heart, that heart which so loves all mankind and is so often rejected and tossed aside by those who promote lies in the world; by those who hate and spread hate by speech or internet or jokes or other words; by those who engage in a sin saying, God understands or, I will get confessed of it soon; by those who say, there really is no such thing as sin anymore, only that which I want to do and therefore I have the right to do because I want it. Jesus strained in the garden, Luke says that he was standing in the agony, not prostrate, straining every muscle like an athlete, agonizing over this chalice of suffering. But he drinks it because of what? Because he must? No. because his love is so incredible, so overwhelming, so beyond anything that you and I think of. What is this pierced chamber, shed of its water from the pierced pericardium around the heart, this heart which itself is cut open? It is the divine inner chamber of God, where God asks us to come and be with Him.

Who am I? Do I have the sense of the robins on Mount Calvary and long to comfort my Jesus tonight in this tomb? Let us comfort him with our resolution to serve the poor, to change the world for better in His Name; to speak truth; to love others; to bring peace; to visit the sick and clothe the naked and bury the dead and feed the hungry. Let us comfort him with our conviction that we will be his new hands in his new creation, and so bring his absolute love to others. Let us accept and believe that God’s love is meant for me. Let us realize, that he suffered this willingly- more so, that he suffered this just for me. And if I will learn that, believe that, then I will be His brother, His sister, a true child of Mary the Mother of the Church, a true co-worker who unites his pain to Jesus’ pain, and his love to God’s radical love, and seeks to change this world not just tonight, not just on Easter, but every day of the year until the moment when His love is so strong that I no longer want to stay here in this creation, but I am longing to be with Him in His glory.


  1. Thank you once again for such prayerful, true words which go right to the heart of the matter. My Good Friday is better because of them.

  2. Bless you for the gift you have given by use of your gift of voice and words. I am appropriately mollified and considerate of the role I play in this world. I love Jesus Christ….and robins.


  3. I posted the link to your sermon on a Catholic forum I’m on. I’m sad none of the people who posted comments on our site left any here. However, there have been about ten folks who said it’s one of the best things they’ve read this Lent.
    Your story of the robins moved some to tears. Several said they will never look at robins in the same way again. Thanks again.

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