Three years ago, everyone was talking about the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It provoked passionate observations from many viewers. A group of people were intensely discussing this movie when they asked someone who had been noticeably silent his opinion. When he said that he had chosen not to see the movie, they asked him why. He answered simply, “I read the book. I know how the story ends.”
As we enter Holy Week, most churches will use the proclaiming of the passion and death of Jesus as recounted by Luke. We have heard it countless times and seen numerous television and movie interpretations. Still, it remains compelling and moving.
We are moved at the Last Supper when Jesus shares his Body and Blood. We are saddened by the apostles’ deserting Jesus in the garden and angered by the high priests and Pilate and by Peter’s denial. We identify with Simon of Cyrene as he carries Jesus’ cross and by Joseph of Arimathea’s courage. We shudder as we hear the cold stone rolled against the entrance to the tomb.
We are also blessed to know that the story of our salvation does not end in death. The alleluias of Easter will lift us up to complete all that has happened. While we may know the outcome, it will remain the greatest mystery of all time. It is the greatest love story that the world has ever known or will ever know. It is God’s love story and our love story.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Jesus showed us that great love by laying down his life for his friends. God is love. Jesus goes to his death for no other reason than love. Love drives the universe. It is still the most powerful force that humanity has ever discovered. God made us for love. No matter who we are or what position we hold in life, if we do not love, we are nothing.
Jesus, hanging on the cross, is God’s love song. This is a song without words. Words were too weak, too inadequate to bring home the love message. We needed to see love itself loving us. It is too easy to say, “I love you.” Those words are not always true, and when they are not true, they are the cruelest words a person can speak. Yet, when we see love, when we gaze at love loving us, when we see the extent and length to which love has gone for our sake, then we will know and appreciate love.
An anonymous man in the passion story makes one of the greatest responses to love. We know him only by his rank: a centurion. This soldier stood guard at Golgotha throughout this gory event. He watched the death of Jesus at close range, surrounded by ill-wishers and some weeping women. What he sees in the dying of this virtuous man extracts from him the greatest act of faith in the Bible: “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Jesus forgave his betrayers and conspirators long before they completed their despicable deeds. Jesus did not want revenge. The purpose of his life and death was to reconcile and reunite all people with their divine creator. We must make that our life’s purpose as well. Our last act at the end of each day should be seeking and granting forgiveness.
This week we will again hear God’s love story told to us throughout the Holy Week celebrations. May we create the space needed to hear and see the love of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ, the One who still loves us to death.