As we come to Holy Week—the week which precedes Easter Sunday—there are many events upon which Christians focus: the Last Supper of Jesus with His apostles on Holy Thursday, His Passion (from the Latin “passio”, meaning “suffering”), His death from crucifixion, His entombment, and His resurrection early on Easter Sunday morning. Christians, of course, believe these events to be quite literal and quite historical, and Jesus’ resurrection is the very basis of our hope in life after physical death.
Of course, many don’t believe. To be quite honest, it all does seem on its face to be somewhat of an idealistic fantasy: the “bearded man in the sky” who cares for each person (billions of them!), Jesus healing people with a word, His coming back to life, eternal life, etc.—all seemingly contrary to our worldly experience, or even common sense. Well … more on that—and on the reasons for Christian faith and hope—next time. But, absolutely central to the celebrations of this week, is the ideal of love … and that which accompanies and proceeds from that love: self-sacrifice.
Is there any greater measure of love than self-sacrifice? The soldier’s love of country leading him to charge into battle; the policeman’s or fireman’s readiness to rush into danger to save another; a lover’s willingness to sacrifice any and all for his beloved. This loving self-sacrifice is something that you parents know well; a good parent would willingly bear any suffering rather than see their children bear the same. Indeed, is there any greater agony than seeing one’s own child suffer and being helpless to take that suffering away?
And thus we come to the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself: pure, absolute, infinite love. If you don’t understand Christianity, understand at least that much—our belief in God’s unbounded love for us. From Christianity’s belief in God’s love emerges its central tenets and obligations of love of God first as the source of all good and all being, and love of neighbor. Certainly this principle has been observed imperfectly (often VERY imperfectly) in the two millennia of Christianity, but it is always the ideal—like a budding pianist with a bust of Beethoven to inspire him. And yet, as you parents know, sometimes the truest love is a “tough love”—a love which teaches through hardship or trial.
This “tough love” of the crucifixion is Jesus teaching US of God’s own limitless love. The theological explanation of Jesus’ agonizing self-sacrifice and subsequent resurrection are too involved to attempt adequately in the limits of a newspaper column … but, for the uninitiated, the unknowing and, perhaps most of all, for the unbelieving, know that at its foundation is: love … God’s own love for me, and for you. This is why every Catholic Church has a crucifix, and Protestants a cross, prominently displayed—to graphically remind us of God’s infinite love for us. God’s love, and Jesus’ purpose on earth, is so very succinctly and yet poignantly described in the Gospel of John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
So … if you’re mystified this week at people filing into churches around the city, know that is love that drives us … for love drove God—Jesus—to the ultimate act of love for us: to die upon a cross for our salvation, and to give us the hope of life with Him in future resurrection. To this we hold, for, as St. John wrote: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins … So we know and believe the love God has for us … We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:10-19)