Lent is a season to reflect and ponder the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. The liturgical destination of our Lenten journey is the Sacred Triduum, when we celebrate the giving of the Eucharist, the Cross, and the Resurrection. It is tempting to ignore Good Friday, to view it as something simply ‘gotten’ through or around. Easter Sunday is easy to celebrate with joy. The gift of love that Christ leaves in the Eucharist as well as the model of charity in the washing of feet is happy. But it is Good Friday that ties these days and themes together and gives them their power to change our lives. Good Friday is difficult because we do not like the Cross or always understand what it truly means. We try to avoid it because it symbolizes suffering, sacrifice, and pain. Ultimately, Lent is about remembering that there can be no resurrection without the Cross.
It is the Cross that marks our lives on this earth. We are marked with the Cross at our baptisms; and this is renewed with each Sign of the Cross. Jesus instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is not an optional activity for a few followers, nor one that is a one-time deal, or when convenient, or on a limited schedule. Every disciple has cross, and it is part and parcel with following Jesus.
The cross is not light, in discussing or in fact. Crucifixion was cruel, slow, and methodical. People could be dying on the cross in excruciating (literally from the cross) pain for days. As one of our Eucharistic Prefaces (Preface III of Ordinary time) states, the Father “fashioned the remedy out of mortality itself”. When Jesus embraces and dies on the cross, He takes upon Himself the entire burden of the world’s sins. By His innocence and obedience, He puts sin and death to death. The Church Fathers and countless saints spoke of the cross and resurrection in terms of the re-creation story. Adam and Eve, by their disobediently taking of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, cause sin to enter the world. In the Crucifixion, Jesus stretches out His hands not to take but to give. He is revealed as the New Adam, the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve who stands beside her Son. This makes the Cross the Tree of Life. How Jesus dies is not just incidental, a matter of convenience, simply chosen because crucifixion was the current tool of capital punishment by the Roman government. It was God the Father’s plan, His ultimate choice, from before all time. He intended that the wood of the Cross be the means of our salvation.
Jesus willingly gave His life, so that we could see how ugly our sins are to the Father by our looking at Jesus on the Cross. In the cross, he fulfills the promise of the Eucharist, the most blessed fruit of Tree of Life, which brings us eternal life in the Resurrection. But we must ponder our sins and allow them to be put to death, along with our own. We cannot go around the cross – we must go through it.
Instead of avoiding the Cross this Lent, we are to take up our cross and follow. He will put our sins to death. We submit ourselves in obedience to Him, and are to receive often and well of the fruit of Tree of Life: Jesus, the Eucharist. By doing so, we return to the Garden for which we were created, where we will walk with the Lord for the rest of eternity.