Jesus’ sacrifice reconciles us to the Father, destroys the power of sin and death
We begin the most sacred week of the entire Church year this weekend. Jesus described the significance of the saving events of Holy Week in this way: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:23-24).
Jesus continued saying: "My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say – Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" (Jn 12:27-28).
Jesus' offering of His holy and innocent life not only reconciled us to the Father, destroyed the reign of sin and vanquished the power of death, but was the perfect sacrifice of praise.
Sin and death came into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Jesus' supreme act of obedience destroyed the reign of sin and death. By faithfully doing the will of His Father on earth, even unto death, the Incarnate Son of God established the kingdom of God on earth, the kingdom for which we pray in the Our Father.
On Palm Sunday, we make our own the enthusiasm of the crowds who welcomed Jesus when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem: "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" We repeat this festive acclamation at every Mass after the Preface. In so doing, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus as our Savior and Messiah. We profess our desire to follow Jesus and to make His Passover, His death and resurrection, the very focus of our lives. We acknowledge that Jesus alone can lead us to a joy that no one can take from us.
Holy Week, and indeed the entire year, reaches its climax with the celebration of the Paschal Triduum. The Paschal Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening and continues through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, and the Easter liturgies. While our liturgies commemorate Jesus' institution of the Holy Eucharist, His passion and death on the cross, and His glorious emergence from the tomb, history is not the major focus of our celebration. We do not simply re-trace or re-live these saving events. Rather, we enter into and celebrate mystery.
When we celebrate the liturgies of the Easter Triduum, we celebrate what Jesus is doing for us and to us now. Jesus gathers us in faith, calls us into deeper conversion, and empowers us with His Holy Spirit to make our personal daily passages from darkness to light, from sin to virtue, from apathy and indifference to commitment and service.
By sharing in these life-giving events of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the depth of His love for us, and we are led to a greater surrender of ourselves to Him and in behalf of Him to others.
One of my favorite passages from Scripture, in fact the passage from which I derive my episcopal motto, is: "I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from His resurrection; likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death" (Phil 3:10).
It is precisely in our celebration of these Paschal liturgies and in our reflection upon their meaning that we come to know Jesus more profoundly, not just with our minds but from the depth of our heart. It is in these very celebrations that we come to experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a commentary on His imminent passion and death. In the course of the meal, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying: "Take, eat; this is my body." Jesus then took the cup filled with wine and said: "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:26-28). Jesus was dramatically portraying and anticipating His own sacrificial death on the cross and already He was allowing His disciples to share in it through the reception of His Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine.
In anticipation of His resurrection, Jesus said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him/her. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me" (Jn 6:56-57).
On Good Friday, Jesus gave His life as an act of sacrificial love to the Father in order that we might have life and have it in abundance. Jesus gave His life in our stead and in our behalf. Because Jesus reconciled us to the Father through His sacrificial death, we now have the privilege and right to address God as our Father in with Jesus.
With the Easter Vigil and the Easter Masses, we celebrate the confirmation of all Jesus' works and teachings, the fulfillment of the promises of both the Old and New Testament in the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection was the Father's complete answer to Jesus' plea for deliverance, for in the resurrection the Father inaugurated His kingdom – a kingdom free from sin and death, a kingdom of righteousness and immortality.
Through faith and Baptism, we are united to the risen, living Jesus and so share in His victory over evil and obtain the new life of His Holy Spirit. In raising Jesus from the dead, the Father provides for us our daily bread of eternal life – Jesus Himself. We are His living Body on earth through Baptism. We are nourished with His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. We are temples of His Holy Spirit. We can pray the Our Father in spirit and in truth.
Thus, we enter into and celebrate mystery when we celebrate the liturgies of the Easter Triduum. We celebrate what the living Jesus and His heavenly Father are doing for us and to us as His disciples. They are conforming us through the power of the Holy Spirit more into the likeness of Christ, turning our minds and hearts into conformity with His mind and His Sacred Heart. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to live by the Father's will bringing more truth, peace, justice, and love into our families and into our world. With St. Paul, each one of us can say, "I live now not just I, but Christ lives in me."