Good Friday April 6, 2012
It is finished!
Until I opened the e-mail yesterday, I was unaware of the fact that on March 1st of this year, a Christian missionary – Jeremiah Small – was shot and instantly killed by one of students while opening his class in prayer. Moments later, the student turned the gun on himself and died a few hours later. There is precious little understanding as to the reasons for this tragedy. To be sure, Jeremiah was very open and honest about his own walk with Christ, both in the classroom and outside of school. He was very well loved and respected for that very reason. The 11th grade student was not a strong Muslim, and for years even denied the existence of God. Recently, he had begun to show sincere interest in the things of the Lord. Upon his shoulders was the reputation and hopes of one of the best known and most powerful families in Iraq, -- his grandfather’s brother is the President of Iraq.
Jeremiah was the first American, civilian or military, to be killed in the Kurdish region of north Iraq. The entire country felt the shame and bloodguilt of this teenager’s action. They were all waiting for revenge from the Americans. What they discovered, and broadcast on national TV, was Jeremiah’s family’s forgiveness. Hundreds attended his memorial. His students mourned and were inspired. He began teaching history and literature at the Classical School of the Medes in Sulymania, Iraq in January 2006. He returned to teach year after year because of the great gospel changes and hope he saw in the lives of his students. In one of his last e-mails, he wrote the following: I see great things being accomplished and am amazed. Kurdistan is already transformed. May our hearts be stirred both to faith and action.
In 2008, Pope Benedict said this: “Through the sorrowful way of the cross, men and women of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by Christ’s blood, have become friends of God, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. “Friend” is what Jesus calls Judas, and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. He calls each of us friend because he is the true friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for his creatures. For him, there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the whole of humanity from ignorance of God, from the circle of hate and vengeance, from the slavery to sin. The cross makes us brothers and sisters.
Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot find him in the crucified Christ. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God. Let us allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to put our human certainties in crisis. Let us open our hearts to him. Jesus is the truth that makes free to love. Let us not be afraid. Upon dying, the Lord saved sinners, that is, all of us. The apostle Peter wrote: Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday.”
Because Jesus cried out “It is finished!” for the past 5 and 1/2 years Jeremiah Small was able to serve his brothers and sisters in Kurdistan and ultimately lay down his life. Because Jesus cried out “It is finished!”, we are certain that Jeremiah’s death was not in vain, nor were the deaths of countless martyrs – witnesses who joined Stephen the first martyr in praying for those responsible for their deaths, whose blood becomes the seed of the Church. May we pray that because of Jeremiah’s death, another Saul of Tarsus would meet Jesus on a different “road to Damascus” and be transformed into a mighty missionary, bringing thousands of Muslims to saving knowledge of him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus the Anointed One. May we never see the cross, remember the cross, make the sign of the holy cross without remembering Jesus’ last triumphant cry: “It is finished!” When our last our draws near, may these words be upon our lips and in our hearts:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee!
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
We adore You, Jesus Christ, and we bless You. Truly Your cross and passion bring us life and healing, Amen.