HOLY SATURDAY – Good News About The Church
This Holy Week, no one can have missed the sensational headlines concerning scandals committed by churchmen and the alleged failure of some Church leaders. Headlines are punchy one-liners, designed to catch our attention. At their best, they invite us to read the article they herald and maybe discover whatever truth it contains. At their worst, they are misleading and we can wrongly think they capture the truth in a nutshell, so that we don’t need to consider the issue any further. It’s fair to say that most of the media headlines which have captured the world’s attention this Lent have been of the latter kind, and people have thus been led to form a kangaroo court, and to judge the Church of Jesus Christ, and to jeer at her. One need only peruse the hateful and intemperate comment boxes of the media or various blogs for evidence of this. And so, once again Jesus Christ, truly present as the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, is scourged and lashed for the sins of his people and his ministers.
As the Victim of those sins, Jesus identifies Himself with all those who have been victims, and so the Church, who is always first and foremost the Mystical Body of Christ, truly identifies with their pain and trauma; the victims’ pain and anger is also the Church’s anguish and distress. Christ then mounts the Cross to redeem sinners and endure an agonizing death with suffering humanity. But even as He hangs there in love, those who do not know what they are doing mock and jeer at Him. Hence, the entire Church is summarily condemned, derided, and dismissed; all her members are found to be naively deluded, at best, and at worst, guilty and complicit in a cover-up.
In contrast, what is the headline that we should concentrate on as we pass from Holy Week into Eastertide? It begins tonight at the Easter Vigil: Alleluia!
That exclamation of Easter joy invites us to consider the truth and reality of what the Church is about. The Church of Jesus Christ is about good news, and her headlines fill the Gospels. So, let us always turn to them and read them! St Matthew’s gospel, cited above, leaves us with his punchy attention-grabbing headlines to tell us what the death of Christ effected, and they are so much more sensational than the media’s. Christ’s death was accompanied by cosmic phenomena, so that as St Ignatius of Antioch said, Jesus “was truly crucified and died, with those in heaven and on the earth and under the earth looking on”. Thus, creation itself proclaimed the headlines and sensationally told the good news. And this is news of health, life, peace, reconciliation and goodness to all humanity because of the love of God for all people, shown definitively on the Cross. The gospels proclaim that death is not the end, that sin is ultimately defeated, and that the grave has no hold over us. Rather, we will be raised with Jesus Christ. This is the essence of the good news that the Church proclaims day after day.
St Justin Martyr said that on Holy Saturday, the Lord “remembered his dead … and He went down unto them to preach to them the good news of His salvation”. The Lord still does that today! In every situation where people are dead through sin, or because they have been the victims of sin and evil, the Lord Jesus continues to preach salvation to His beloved people. And He does this primarily in the sacramental actions of His Body, the Church. Many tonight will see and experience the grace of baptism, which joins the forgiven sinner with Jesus Christ so that he or she becomes a child of God, and shares in divine life itself. This is good news! Christ also preaches salvation in the lives and deeds of countless Christians, for raised to new life by His grace and prompted by His Spirit, these members of the Church witness to God’s love, compassion and goodness in their lives and extend these to others. This is good news! And finally, in the speech, writing, and art of Christians, Christ’s message of salvation is proclaimed. So, Melito of Sardis, in the earliest extant Easter homily, said: “It is He who drew close to you, who cared for the suffering in your midst, and raised the dead”. This is good news!
As such, it would be a diabolical tragedy if anyone should refuse to hear the good news and only considers bad news in the Church. It is true and should be acknowledged that this is a reason why any scandal in the Church is so very terrible and evil: as trust has been shattered, it is extremely hard to put one’s faith in Christ and His holy Church again. However, we can also become so distracted by the sins and failings of some Christians that we fail to look at Christ himself and at the saving work he has wrought for all of sinful humanity. Thus, we might allow sin to dim the light of faith in our hearts, scandal to extinguish our hope, and outrage to cool our charity. We can be so allured by the glamour of evil and human sinfulness that we seem to revel in bad news. As Easter people, though, let us be taught by the Cross, enraptured by the love of God, enthralled by the beauty of holiness, and glory in His good news. On Holy Saturday, let us imitate Christ and preach salvation to the dead, beginning with the sin that resides in our own hearts, and then, rising with Him, let us share the love and mercy that we have received with others. For such is good news, such is what the Church is about, and such is the ‘headline’ that we pray will draw the world’s attention.