Elie Weisel who survived the holocaust wrote a horrifying memoir of his life as a German Jew under the terror of Nazism. One day in his life in the prison camp stands out for him for the cruelty and darkness. As difficult as the story of that day is to read and endure, I share it with you.
“The three victims mounted together onto the scaffold. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. ‘Long live liberty!’ cried the two adults. But the young boy was silent. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. Total silence followed throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting…Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…For more than half an hour he stayed there struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red; his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me I heard the same man asking: ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows…”
Where is God in the face of pain, cruelty, injustice, all the nightmare horrors, great and small of this life? Where is he?
God hears our questions. And God replies. That reply is the cross of Jesus.
Scott Lee, a priest friend of mine, noted that on a hillside in Palestine an innocent man was tortured to death. “Does it take away the pain of other deaths?” he asked. No, it does not. “Does it make our loss of those we love less painful?” It does not. “Does it explain to us why there should be pain and loss in the world?” It does not.
“What the cross of Jesus does do is stand as a towering witness to us that God participates in our pain; that there is no darkness so dark that God does not wait for us there. There is no evil the human heart can devise so evil that God will not match it with God’s love; that there is no terror so great that God has not already known it and consecrated it.
Many questions remain unanswered. But for now, while we do not have answers, we have the mystery of God’s response. It is the cross.”
If you hear a voice within you asking, “Where is God now?” listen to your heart, a voice of hope within saying, “Here I am, hanging on this gallows where human fear and cruelty and greed and hatred have put me. I am hanging here on this gallows in spite of all your fear and hatred with my arms still outstretched to you in love…and no terror can ever change that.”
And so we call this Friday “Good.”