The mood is solemn, the tone deeper, the liturgy muted as we continue the long season of Lent, a time of penitence, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. A small measure of the solemnity of this time is the prohibition against the use of a distinctly Christian and joyful word associated with Easter. We leave it off. We dare not say it.
The call to repentance, which begins the Gospel reading and is inscribed in nearly every liturgy and customary in most private prayer, is now emphasized for days and weeks. In a sense, we head into the wilderness with Jesus to face demons and temptations, the wild beasts that stalk without and haunt within. We are exposed, and so we see ourselves not as we wish but as we must. We face the truth.
When we see ourselves, we see our need for help and forgiveness. We know the call to repentance not as a vindictive condemnation of our fallen condition but as an invitation to start anew. With the psalmist, we cry out: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:1-2).
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). We repent with the hope to be restored with a “clean heart” and a “right spirit” (Ps. 51:11). Who does not feel the need, from time to time, for a new beginning? We feel it today, and we feel it deeply. The soul pleads, “With my whole heart I seek you” (Ps. 119:10).
How do we start over? We begin by focusing our attention on what Jesus Christ has done for us while we were yet sinners. He offered prayers and supplications. He embraced a reverent submission and learned obedience in all he suffered, even unto death. Although he is the perfect Son of the Father, he deigned to be among us and to bear our weakness, our anguish, and our end in death (Heb. 5:7-8).
Nothing human, therefore, is alien to Jesus. God “made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Though sinless, he bears everything a sinner bears, everything a sinner suffers. He was condemned as if deserving death. He descended to the dead. He went all the way to the bottom. No one and nothing is beyond his reach.
He has done this for us, but not without us. He invites us to follow him into the highways and back alleys of human life, the distortion and squalor in our lives, the unruly force of our desires. He invites us to follow him in his submission, humiliation, and death. “Whoever serves me,” Jesus says, “must follow me” (John 12:26). We take up our cross and go to our death.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain” (John 12:24). Jesus truly died. And we are called to die with him daily and to die in his arms in the end. Why? Why are we called to walk the way of the cross?
Jesus meets us right where we are, in our weakness and need, our guilt and failure. Dying with him, we touch the “source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). He is there at the bottom. And yet he is lifted from the earth, drawing all things to himself.
Be not afraid. He is near you, and you will arise new with him.
Look It Up: John 12:32
Think About It: You are descending and rising in the one glory of Jesus Christ.