As I write, it is Portland’s most beautiful day since November. It is warm and the sun is shining. The streets are full of smiling people getting off work and hoping this beauty will last through the weekend. It has been a long, cold and wet winter. It has been a long Lent, and I look forward to it ending. It is all over next Sunday. I am smiling!
This week ends with the Triduum, the three holy days commemorating the Eucharist and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. I will reflect on the resurrection next post. But as we begin this holiest week of the Christian calendar, and as the sun is beautifully shining through my window, I am thinking about death or, specifically the stated belief that Jesus died for my sins, for our sins.
That never made sense to me. If anyone was going to die for my sin, shouldn’t it be me? Or if Jesus was going to die for my sin, shouldn’t he wait until I actually sin? I am not saying that the oft repeated statement about why Jesus had to die is false, just that I did not understand it and now deeply question it. That Jesus had to die I understand. He was human, and humans die. But it sure is obvious that in dying he did not end sin!
My favorite theology professor and brother in Holy Cross John S. Dunne, CSC posits this question: “If I know that I must die someday, what can I do to satisfy my desire to live forever?” Make that Jesus’ question, not just for himself, but also for everyone: “Everyone is going to die. In light of that fact, how does life have meaning?”
“The night before He died, a death He freely accepted, Jesus had supper for the last time with his most intimate followers. These disciples did not understand his matter-of-fact approach to the fact that he was about to die. Why would He freely accept death? One should fight it. Unless… death does not mean what we think it means.
Jesus had lived a live of giving. Everything he did, he did for the good of others: healing; teaching; confronting. Even the night before he died, he took bread and wine told them that, in the future, whenever they were to re-enact this, their Last Supper, they should not only remember him, but actually become His body and blood, which He always gave others for their consumption. They were to do the same in memory of Him. That’s what we celebrate on Thursday. We get nourished to become Jesus’ real presence so we will give ourselves for others’ consumption.
On Friday, we remember that he did indeed die, with all of the pain and sorrow, for himself and for others, that death is known to entail. But when he says to one of the thieves crucified with Him “today you will be with me in paradise,” He makes it very clear that death is not a fearful end, but a very positive transition to human completeness. So he answered Fr. Dunne’s question once and for all time: “If I know I am going to die, I will live in such a way that I make death irrelevant.” Sin is separation. Jesus lived to eradicate the need for any sin. His acceptance of death made life eternal, for us and for all.
Happy Holy Week!