Cross and Resurrection
“Before the festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). With these words John’s Gospel opens its account of the Passion, the fulfillment of a life spent for humankind in sharing and in loving in total obedience to the Father to the extreme gift of himself. “It is finished!” (John 19:30), Jesus says on the cross, as a seal on an offering that knows no reservations. Some manuscripts of the Vulgate added “all,” for greater clarity: “All is finished!” in the sense that the salvific plan, revealed in Scripture, set in train in the Incarnation, is perfected on the Cross in a supreme act of love.
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By contemplating Jesus on the Cross, the full meaning of his words becomes clear: “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). The dramatic fulfillment of an existence lived in obedience to the Father among the people is the most luminous revelation of God’s love for the Son and for us. And it is a love without reserve, which awaits no response other than to be welcomed. The Letter to Titus says: “He it is who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14; see Gal 1:4; 1 Tm 2:6). Paul specifies: “The Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). And there is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for all (cf. Rom 5:7-10; 1 John 4:10). Thus Jesus’ saving mission is carried out to deliver “his own” (John 13:1), that is, the disciples, but it is a reality which embraces the whole of humanity and from which only our refusal can exclude us. Indeed, it is in the very nature of love that it cannot be imposed.
The Letter to the Romans clarifies the depth of the Lord’s gift: his love revealed on the Cross is the foundation of our hope. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. […] For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:8-10). Later the Apostle comes back to this subject, reflecting on the final judgment. The Lord Jesus did not come to condemn or judge us, but “he died, yes, he was raised, he is at the right hand of God, and intercedes for us.” And so: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? […] For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35-39).
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“It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised” (Rom 8:34): Paul immediately links the Lord’s death to the resurrection. This is not an irrelevant detail, since in the resurrection the humiliation of the cross is totally redeemed.
After all, what would Jesus be for us if the Gospels concluded with the death and burial of the one who was crucified? It would be a shining example of a solidarity lived courageously to the end and which comes out as a sad loss, as happens in the ordinary course of things. His would have been the life of a prophet similar to that of the great prophets of Israel, similar also to that of philanthropists and great figures of our time who have spent themselves for others with courage and absolute dedication. What then does the announcement of the Resurrection add to the person of Jesus, and therefore to that of so many others who, consciously or not, lived like him?
In the Resurrection of Jesus, the Father proclaims that the life of Christ spent in the total gift of self, beyond the seeming failure (the cross), has in itself the sign of victory: the life given for others to the end and the death encountered in order to live in solidarity with one’s brothers and sisters are not the end of everything, but the seed of a new life, of a redeemed life, the prophetic announcement of which Christ carried in his own flesh and in his own history. The parable of the grain of wheat explains it: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). In fact, life is love that grows and develops in the gift of self, and thus becomes fruitful in a new life.
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In this light it is possible to understand Paul’s words: “If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain” (cf. 1 Cor 15:14). Each of us hears the proclamation of the risen Christ: what can this mean in our lives?
There are no formulas that can fully express the meaning of such a great reality, which must instead be sought, lived, loved throughout an entire life and is the fruit of a personal encounter with the mystery of Christ.
Each one of us has experiences of failure and death that are our own and that are encountered variously at different times: they are found in each day’s insecurity, in fragility, loneliness, incomprehension, failure, illness, fear and misery. Today in particular, in the time of coronavirus, we discover the humiliation brought about by the force of evil: people being struck by a dark disease, which advances inexorably, which knows no limits or boundaries, which goes beyond walls and barbed wire, which seems to be omnipotent and penetrates all parts of the world, indiscriminately. Each one of us becomes intimately aware of our own vulnerability, poverty, powerlessness, a disconcerting truth that frightens us.
The risen Christ comes to meet us in each of these situations: not only – and not so much – to announce to us the joy of a fuller future life, but to tell us that courageously taking on the burdens that life brings us, remaining open to love and solidarity, already has in itself the sign of victory. Despite every possible failure, the life that rises in Christ is already now, in daily life, the joyful proclamation that the Father loves us and saves us in Christ: God has not repented of having created us.
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Thus John’s parable of the Shepherd gives us the ability to understand and come to experience the epiphany of God’s love: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away […] because a hired hand does not care for them. I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. […] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father” (John 10:11-18).