Reflections on the Crucifixion

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Christ's Crucifixion - by Andrea MANTEGNA - from Musée du Louvre, Paris

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Reflections on the Crucifixion

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)We are here acknowledging that Jesus Christ "died for us." But what does that mean?

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The Scapegoat - by William Holman Hunt

One of the themes is that He was the scapegoat. It was the custom among the Jews thousands of years ago to pin their sins on a goat, drive it out into the desert, and then put it to death, thereby putting our sins to death with our surrogate, with that goat. Hence the word "scapegoat".

Was Jesus our surrogate, our substitute in dying? Did He in fact die for us so that we would not have to die? Well . . . . yes, but there's more.

Did Jesus die because of our collective sins, because of the sins of all of humanity? Furthermore, did Jesus die as a result of my own personal sins? Did He die because my own sins brought about His death? Well . . . . yes, but there's more.

I want to suggest another reason to you, today, on this Friday that we call "Good". I want to suggest to you that Jesus Christ died His agonizing death on the Cross in order to free you - in order to liberate you. The Jewish Passover is, after all, first and foremost a celebration of FREEDOM, of liberation, in a number of aspects and at a number of levels. And so is the passion and death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a moving of us from being in the condition of slavery, from being held in the grip of our sins, to being free . And if you think you are not imprisoned in your sins, just think of the sins you know right now that you will commit again in the future. We are (all of us!) in slavery to certain things from which we desperately need to be freed.

The death of Jesus Christ in the Christian vision has a great deal to do with our liberation from what addicts us.

It also has to do with another form of release - namely the releasing of God's Holy Spirit INTO our humanity. When hung upon His Cross, Saint John tells us, Christ "handed over His Spirit." In other words, the Holy Spirit, God's principle of life, came to us by raising the humanity of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . and further came upon us at Pentecost. So, when we say Jesus Christ died for us, it was in order to give us back the life-giving Spirit of God that we lost back in the original Garden of Paradise.

We often tell each other that endings are beginnings, that when something ends something new begins. That pattern is stamped into all of creation; we find that in galaxies, in our earth, in nature, and in all of life, and certainly in our human lives. Birth, life, death, resurrection and new life marks everything.

Death and new life are constantly with us.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We move from the womb, through birth, and into life. The umbilical is cut and we're on our own.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We begin a journey throughout all of life that is a continual journey from dependent to independent living. The teenage years make that more evident to us than any other phase of life through which we must inevitably pass.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We move from childhood into adolescence - we die to a carefree life into a life of deep worry and anxiety. We care, sometimes too totally, about whether or not we're attractive to others; the opinion and judgment of others about us becomes all-consuming. We are no longer innocent and carefree little boys, innocent and carefree little girls. Life's agonies, sufferings and deaths come rushing upon us in our teenage years.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We move from the protection of primary and secondary school life out into the larger world. For many, it is agony. For others it is liberation and freedom. For still others it is taking on the mantle of responsibility, maturity and adulthood . . . something beyond simply doing what I feel like doing, something beyond going through life based simply on feelings.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We move into a career and then into retirement.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)We move, finally, from retirement into death.

Each transition, each movement through an ending into a new beginning; each journey is filled with agony, suffering, passion and death. Each movement is filled with FEAR. And yet, deep down within, we know (don't we!) that each death leads us into a new life and that each death can and ought to liberate us. Each death can allow our minds and hearts, our spirits, to take us into a new and higher and better form of life.

Jesus Christ died to "hand over His Spirit" - the Holy Spirit by Whom He was conceived in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the Cross Jesus' Side was pierced with a lance, His Body was opened, to be an Epiphany of the Divinity that was within Him. The reason why He was born, the reasons why He lived among us, and the reason why He dies the way He did was to release God's Holy Spirit so that God's life could once again, as it was back when Adam and Eve were held by God and He breathed His Holy Spirit into them. Because of Christ's death on the Cross, God's life-giving Spirit is breathed into us once again in a Pentecostal wind. Jesus Christ died so that God's Holy Spirit could be put back into us again and live within us the way God intended in the first place, when Adam and Eve were alive in God in the Garden of Paradise.

How do you react to Christ's death? What does it mean for you? That's the crucial question. When you gaze upon Christ nailed upon His Cross, it puts a gigantic question before you. It makes you (or it ought to make you!) question the way you are living your life.

How, then, DO you react to Christ's death on the Cross?

One way is to simply feel guilty and then let it go at that. But that's much too facile, much too superficial, much too easy. That's simply looking at the past. O, sure, we can take responsibility for what we've done in the past. We can acknowledge our sins and even take responsibility for them. But then what?

There is yet another response, another response-ability, we ought to face with regard to Christ's death on the Cross, and that is to look ahead. Christ did, after all, die for our sins. And He has handed over His Spirit to us. The Resurrection-Pentecost Spirit moved upon us from Christ's Cross IN ORDER TO INAUGURATE A NEW WAY IN WHICH WE CAN LIVE WITH GOD!

Death and new life are constantly with us, "coming upon" us. But with them now, because of Jesus Christ, comes the Holy Spirit. Each death and new life transition through which we must pass brings us into Christ's journey through life, death and newness of life. Yes, we face these with fear. Jesus Himself shrieked: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Jesus Himself, with a loud cry, handed over His Spirit. But He has also given us the one thing that always liberates us, namely the gift and power of HOPE. Without hope we truly are dead - lifeless dead. But because of Jesus Christ we now can face everything that life can throw at us, we can face every loss, every pain, every form of suffering, and even death itself, with the empowerment of hope. We now have the ability to respond to life with a vision that we did not have in our blindness. We have the Light of the World, the risen Light of the World in which to see what is ahead, what awaits us ahead in our future. The Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the very same Holy Spirit God has poured out into us because of the Cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Good Friday is called "Good" for a reason. It is good because in it God's life-giving Holy Spirit was released into us, liberating us, releasing us in releasing and liberating the glorious humanity of Jesus Christ, His risen humanity into which we are forever joined in Holy Communion. For in Holy Communion, you see, we receive the Spirit-filled and gloriously resurrected Body and Blood of the risen Christ.

We now, because of Christ's Cross, have the ability to respond to life based on vision, on light, on hope, all of those things giving us power. The purpose of Christmas is now met. The Epiphany of the Christ, God's Anointed One, is brought to fullness. The "hour" about which Jesus spoke to His mother at the Wedding Feast of Cana has now come. Divinity is once again made a part of humanity in a new and even more glorious way. God's New Creation has been inaugurated in the Garden of the Resurrection, replacing His first creation that began in the Garden of Eden. Christ, the Gardener, has planted His Cross in the middle of the Garden of the Resurrection, giving us of the fruit of the tree that is His Cross, filling us anew with God's life and love.

God has now done everything He could possibly do for us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. What more could He do for us than He has not accomplished by His death on the Cross?

How, then, shall we respond?


Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., details Jesus' specific Plan to be our Scapegoat on the Jewish Feast of Passover.


Participants in the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus

Spiritual insight into the Passion of Jesus Christ can be obtained by examining several of the participants interfacing with Jesus during the course of the Passion (Note: Use your Browser's 'Back' button to return to this page).






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