At the Tomb, We Work and Wait

For 7 April 2023, Good Friday, based on Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9


Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.


My least favorite reading in tomorrow night’s Easter Vigil is from Genesis chapter 22, where God says to Abraham: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” If Abraham loved his son, he would never do this; if God loved Abraham, God would never ask Abraham to slaughter his son.
Likewise, I have a fundamental difference with the patriarchal nonsense in today’s first reading for Good Friday, the Suffering Servant poem from chapter 52 of Isaiah, in which we are told of the Servant: “The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity.”
Yes, these sentiments are laced through Scripture, even as they deeply ingrain themselves in the abusive mindset of many of today’s so-called loving parents toward their children. “I love you so much that I will crush, dominate and verbally and physically abuse you for your own good.”
Let’s be Christian about this and dare to believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
When God said no to our world’s crucifixion by raising Jesus from the dead, God radically interrupted our deeply ingrained, abusive, and sinful habit of crucifying God’s beloved sons and daughters, whom we should love, too.
Perhaps in real life, we would love to jump quickly from Friday of the Lord’s Passion directly to Sunday of our Lord’s Resurrection. But this isn’t how the Christian life works. As a colleague recently told me, “Trauma that is not transformed is transferred.” The trauma of our ancestors remains in our bodies. Our sinful proclivity to abuse one another will pay forward into future generations until we break the cycle and allow Loving God to reach into us and our world to transform the suffering and death we do unto one another. Until God completes the transforming work of resurrection with us, we continue to live in one long Holy Saturday, not quite yet looking into the gloriously empty tomb.
American comedian and devout Catholic catechist Stephen Colbert once said, “I love breathing; I could do it all day.” What a good summary of our Paschal life! Our trauma-transforming work as Christians is to breathe in and sit with one another in the pain, allowing it to be purified and transformed so that we can lovingly breathe out life. This vocation is the everyday work of Christians. We bear the marks of death in our bodies, even as we accompany others equally scarred. And with Christian intentionality, we sit with one another and learn by God’s love to metabolize death and breathe out new life. God loves all the sons and daughters of the earth and is at work in us, impelling us to love one another. Today at the tomb, and perhaps for many days, we work and wait.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified . . .

Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Gregory Heille, O.P.

Gregory Heille, O.P., serves as Professor of Preaching and Evangelization and director of the Doctor of Ministry in Preaching at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great USA and has a particular interest in racial equity education.