Friday, April 14, 2017

New Hope From Tragedy

Like all New Yorkers, Frank Selecchia was overwhelmed and devastated by the events of September 11, 2001. As a construction worker, he came into personal contact with the tragedy when he was called upon to help clear the debris. The most heart wrenching part of the herculean task was to assist in pulling bodies from the rubble.

While hard at work in the midst of the broken glass, twisted metal and huge concrete blocks, Frank looked up and noticed two steel I-beams almost twenty feet high in the shape of a cross. The thought came to him, “I am at Calvary”. Immediately he pointed it out to some of the other workers who got to work clearing debris away from it so that others could go there to see it.

In the midst of the devastation and grief, that cross became a symbol of hope for those enduring those agonizing days. Those who had lost loved ones in the attack found some reassurance of God’s presence and love in the most senseless and brutal of circumstances. The family of a man who had died in one of the towers said, "It was as if the cross took in the grief and loss. I never felt Jesus more.”

What gave those two lengths of steel the ability to strengthen people facing the most horrifying of circumstances? What gave what otherwise would be the rubble left over by a senseless attack the power to bring healing and hope to devastated individuals? It was precisely because Jesus once hung on such a cross to bring salvation, healing, hope and peace to a broken world.

Jesus, by embracing death with such love for sinners, has transformed what would otherwise be an instrument of torture and intimidation to a source of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing to all who look upon it with faith. Because He was willing to live as we live, to not shield Himself from the ordinary and extraordinary sufferings of human life, He assured us that no one cries alone and no one grieves alone. God is with those who suffer.

It was just such an assurance that filled anyone who looked upon the cross in the middle of the wreckage of the World Trade Center. God was there. That is all they needed to know.

All of us here today are undergoing some type of suffering. It is part of the human condition. In a world broken by discord, violence and injustice there is no avoiding it. We feel suffering in our bodies, in our minds and in our spirits. It can often feel overwhelming and we might echo Jesus’ prayer that the suffering be taken away from us. We may feel abandoned by God as Jesus did. We may be tempted to lose hope as the disciples did.

No matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, the cross can give us consolation. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. We are not hopeless. Whatever we are undergoing, Jesus understands. Our second reading reassures us, “...we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses...” Whatever cross we are bearing, Jesus is carrying it with us. The cross is God’s promise that His love conquers all things and that He makes good come out of the most hopeless of circumstances.

Though the tone of our liturgy today is somber and quiet, there is an undercurrent of confidence running below the surface. The lifeless, broken body of Jesus taken down from the cross is not the end of the story. The gospels do not end in a cold, stone tomb with a massive stone rolled in front of it. We know that Jesus will rise again on the third day as He promised. We know that those who despaired will have their hope restored and those who mourned will soon rejoice.

Whatever we are currently suffering, whatever challenges we are currently facing, the same undercurrent of confidence can run through our lives as well. The God who brings the dead to life will bring hope from our despair, strength from our weakness and healing from our pain. Jesus and His cross assure us that for every death there is a resurrection, for every Good Friday there is an Easter Sunday.

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