How can God die?
I once asked a theologian friend to explain to me how it is possible that God, the Creator of the Universe, could die and still keep the world in existence. My friend told me it was possible because Jesus, a divine Person, is true God and true man. The Son of God died a human death, but the divinity itself did not die. Of course that is true, and I felt satisfied for a time. But this paradoxical moment of the God-man dying on the cross—so pregnant with meaning and mystery—has continued to haunt and fascinate me.
Have you ever meditated on the last moments of Jesus’ life on earth? If not, you should take some time during Holy Week to do so. The culmination of the shocking Incarnation of the Son of God happened in those final seconds of the Passion when Jesus breathed his last.
Just mulling over the final moments of Jesus’ life can plunge us into a darkness of paradox and wonder, which ultimately brings us closer to the mystery of our Triune God.
The God of Life died on a cross so that he might bring us life. Life came down to earth and faced death out of love for us. A Latin hymn from the sixth century, Vexilla Regis, captures this paradox in a poignant stanza:
Now shines the Cross' mystery;
Upon it Life did death endure,
And yet by death did life procure.
So much of this mystery is beyond human comprehension but the pattern—death bringing about life—was made possible by Jesus’ death. This redemptive pattern repeats itself in our lives every day.
Jesus showed us how to find life—through suffering and death. It is not the answer we want to hear, but as we mature in the spiritual life, we realize that we find life precisely in giving up and giving away those things we hold close and think we need more than anything. Finally, stripped of everything, we are like Jesus, naked on the cross. But in this poverty and simplicity of life, we paradoxically find joy and peace. Through the Way of the Cross in our own lives, we find the grace of the Resurrection.
This ideal seems so far away for most of us who cling to little things like our lives depend on it—our favorite TV show, our self-image, our likes on social media, our talents, or our health—you name it, we think we need it to be happy. Our lives are full of little loves, good and bad, that vie to edge God out and put themselves at the center. But every once in a while, usually through a great suffering or sadness, we are thrust out of the revolving door of passing time in our lives. And through the unexpected vehicle of this suffering, if we are open, we receive great graces to reprioritize and put God first in an area of our life.
Recently, a religious sister, a Daughter of St. Paul, passed away in India. Before she died, she told her sisters, “I am happy! I have nothing left because I have given everything to God...I am ready to die.” This is the paradox of the spiritual life, to which we also are invited. Like Jesus, Christians are invited to divest themselves of every single thing in their lives so that in our last moments we can say with great joy, “Father, I have given you everything, and now I give you the last thing I have, my life…Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
A Scripture verse for prayer: Imagine yourself at Calvary looking up at Jesus as he breathes his last.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46
For you: Reflect on some way you have found life in death this Lent. Thank the Lord for his presence with you even in the darkest times of your life.
For others: Do you know someone who is suffering like Jesus on the Cross? Is there some way you can be a sign of hope and Resurrection for that person and bring them comfort and healing in their darkness?
by Sr. Theresa Aleithia Noble, FSP
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