It's been hard to find the right words for this homily today. Things too deep for words have been flooding my mind and my heart, not the least of which is my grandmother's passing. Today is a weird and strange day for many reasons. First, it's the only day I preach without shoes on. It's nice weather but we can't enjoy it like we could on Sunday. The tabernacle is empty. We genuflect to a piece of wood. But even stranger is this: today is not a Mass. We priests do not offer the Eucharistic prayer, we do not consecrate new hosts. In fact, Mass is not allowed at all today. Outside of danger of death, the only sacraments we can offer today are confession and Anointing of the Sick. Why is that? Why do the sacraments stop today? I think because we need to remember the source of all those sacraments, because the source of the Mass's power, the offering of the high priest Jesus Christ himself is today offered in the heavens before God the Father face-to-face. Because today the world was changed forever.
John remembers that today's account finishes in a garden. This garden, where so much life grows, is right now a place of death: the seed is planted but has yet to sprout. John recalls this truth for a reason: the events of this garden will heal the events of another garden, at the other end of salvation history. In the Garden of Eden our irreconcilable plight arises: human beings, created to have a relationship with God, have forfeited it by sin, have severed it. When Adam & Eve grasp at the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we creatures commit an offense that is beyond our remedy to heal: an offense against God, the infinite and eternal, is something for which we can never atone. And this offense is repeated in every one of our hearts, expecting our sorrowful mother Mary. We all have deprived ourselves of the glory of God (Ps. 52). So God's remedy is Jesus, God in human flesh: the one called the Lamb of God, symbolized by the Passover Lamb sacrificed this day at 3-o'-clock, and foretold by Isaiah the prophet. through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.
Pope Benedict (Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2): Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are almost inseparably mixed together. The Truth [God Himself] in all its grandeur and purity does not appear. The world is “true” to the extend that it reflects God: the creative logic, the eternal reason that brought it to birth. And it becomes more and more true the closer it draws to God. Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God's likeness. And God's likeness, rather, His very essence, is manifest in the Cross. Here we see that God Himself is love that loves to the end, purely and completely, with no hint of selfishness holding anything back for Himself.
The power of the cross hits us squarely in between the eyes in this way: we realize how great is God's love, and how short and faltering is our response. Saint Francis used to summarize the Cross, and indeed the whole Gospel in these few words, “Love is not loved!” This is what strikes our hearts today. Here today we mourn our failures. We mourn what sin does. We look at it for all the filth that it is and we begin to find healing by growing to hate sin, hate its consequences. And at the same time we find hope. We find hope in the fact that a God who created us out of love finds a way to redeem us; that the garden of sin turns into the garden of salvation; that we who have sinned through stealing a tree's fruit are now offered the pure fruit of Our Lord's body on this tree of the cross; that we who forfeited the tree of life are welcomed to the tree of eternal life in the cross. And especially for me today, hope that my grandma who suffered through the longest Lent of her life, is now finally at peace after carrying her cross to the end.
Today we kiss the body of our King, enthroned on a cross. As we look at the Lamb of God, and see the horror of sin mingled with the fulness of God's love, we find the healing for which the world has always longed. Before this one and only source of salvation, let us lay our burdens. We cry out as Christ did with the pains of our families, the sufferings of the poor and abandoned, the abused and cheated, and of the entire world. It is here alone they can be answered, here alone where pain turns to hope.