In this last one year alone, the world has been weighed down with numerous senseless killings. Whether it was a shooting in a school in the USA, a seize in a theater in Paris or even explosions in public places in Turkey and Belgium, it has somehow affected us and surely made us think about life. Even though we may not have been affected directly by some of these events, it has certainly put fear and prejudice into most of us. As for myself, it has made me think about how some people no longer see life as a priceless gift from God but as a vehicle to destroy the life of another. The words used by the media are cruel, brutal, merciless, heartless, and coldblooded. Perhaps that tells us the anger that such actions have generated.
Today, where all our Churches will be overflowing with people, we come together to recall yet again the passing of another life. Perhaps the same words cruel, brutal, merciless, heartless, and coldblooded can be said about the death of Jesus. However, there is a difference – it does not evoke a similar anger, hatred or even prejudice. We have gotten used to hearing this story… in fact twice within a span of five days. In some ways, it is also a senseless killing of an innocent man whose only ‘crime’ was to teach and remind people to love one another. However, the passion and death of Jesus was never meant to evoke a response of anger, prejudice or hatred of any sort. It had only one purpose: to show how much the Heavenly Father loves all that He has created and will create in the future.
I have often wondered why God had to choose such a gruesome way to demonstrate His love. Couldn’t there have been some other way to demonstrate love? I am not alone in asking this question. St Augustine in his writing (De Trinitate) had asked if this is what pleased God to do? Perhaps we can try to understand it this way… since God had decided from the beginning of time to send His Son to take on human form and live amongst us, death was inevitable since no man escapes death. However, during His ministry, Jesus’ teaching challenged both the religious and secular authorities of His day and therefore a violent death awaited Him.
Today is certainly not the day to debate why God chose the way He did but rather savour this ultimate act of self-giving. Jesus Himself told His disciples that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Therefore, God chooses the highest form of expressing love… nothing short of the perfect sign – the sacrifice of His only beloved Son. God transforms the cross from being signs of shame, punishment, and disgrace to being signs of victory, conquest and redemption.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father” (#615). Jesus takes upon Himself the sins of all of us to the cross so that this one sacrifice would atone all the sins of the past, present and future.
That is why we call this Good Friday – the day Jesus took upon Himself all our sins and for the good of all the world. How else can the death of a man whose birth the angels said would bring ‘peace to people of goodwill’ be considered good otherwise? The death of Jesus is never the end that God intended but through His death God the Father brings glory to all who believe in Him.
Though on Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary and the words “It is accomplished”, the liturgical observance of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion and death points to another deeper reality – that God is not dead but alive. Human reality tells us that there is no life without birth but the reality of our Christian faith is that there is no life without death – in the context of our celebration today, it is death to sin so that we can be truly alive in Christ.
At Lent many of us have been denying ourselves of many things – food, entertainment, sinful habits, etc. Not because these are traditions to be kept from Lent to Lent, but they are meant to have lasting effects of change and transformation so that Jesus continues to live in each one of us. Perhaps the question that we can ask ourselves today is what sin dies today with Jesus so that that He may set us free to love Him? Unlike other deaths that we have been to, today is not a day to bid farewell to the deceased but rather to welcome the new life that Jesus offers us by His resurrection.