He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Love it to Death: The Life of the Cross

On Good Friday, Catholic churches in many places around the world celebrate the death of the person believed by Christians to be the Messiah promised in the Tanakh, which Christians term the Old Testament.  At the crucifixion of Christ, we see the turning point in His ministry to the world, the moment in which He suffered for the sins of the world, a moment which pervades the world without respect for the limits of time so that it can be transformed in such a way that it is awakened to the possibility of living once again in full union with divine love.

Good Friday is centered upon the death of Christ, and rightly draws our gaze to the cross which is the instrument of death, calling us to participate in the sorrow which is inevitable for those of us who recognize the tremendous depth of love which Christ shows.  We weep with Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and also with those others who gathered at the foot of the cross to witness the end of His life.  We Easter people know that it is not the final end, and all Christians must remember that it is not the beginning.

The sacrifice on the cross was not an end in the sense of the end of a story, but rather an end in the sense of a telos, a purpose for which the sacrifice on the cross was a means.  It is an end He pointed to time and time again in the Gospels, and not just when He specifically instructed us to take up our cross and follow Him.  He showed us the end when washing the feet of the Apostles and said, "This is my body." at the Last Supper.

He showed us the end when He asked the wealthy man to sell all that wealth and give the proceeds to the poor.  He showed us the end when He multiplied the loaves to feed the five thousand, and when he healed the blind man who had never seen.  He showed us the end when He spent 40 days in the desert battling the hardest temptations for us as human beings to resist.  He showed us the end when He was born into a poor and humble place rather than into the most pleasant of human comforts in a royal palace.

As we look at the life of Christ in the light of the cross, we see that the end was visible all along, that the end was a life sacrificed for the good of the whole world, a life that is a gift freely offered and freely accepted by those willing to enter into that life.  We see that to live our lives fully, we must reject comfort in favor of service that requires sacrifice; we see that to attain true greatness, we must be emptied of our selfishness so that we can be filled with divine love and thereby be transformed, rising to a new life just as Christ did.

It is obvious that Jesus' life is a model for the lives of those who would be Christians and follow Him; He makes it equally clear in the Gospel that His death is a model for the Christian life.  Like Him, we put to death our attachments to the world, and in doing so open ourselves to receiving new life, a completely transformed life in which we are truly existing in unity with God.

He showed us by His sorrowful Passion that to be close to God, it is necessary to undergo a profound and agonizing separation from our attachments to the comforts of the world.  Not so that we can desert the world and live apart from it, but so that we can love the world more fully as God so loves the world.

We are called to live the life of the cross,  loving to death our own selfishness by living selflessly for the good of the whole world which we seek to love just as He loves it, showing by our lives the self-sacrificial gift of love offered us by Christ just as Christ showed us the self-sacrificial love of the Father.

In this way, we shine most brightly as an imago dei when our life is a visible image of the cross, a constant sacrifice of love to be made willingly so that others might be able to participate in the divine life of love.

Note:  The above is a Russian icon of the Crucifixion surrounded by scenes from Christ's life.

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