Crucifixion necessary step to redemption

  • March 28, 2008

Third Sunday of Easter (Year A) April 6 (Acts 2:14, 22-28; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35)

How does one make sense of the absurd, tragic and senseless? The early Christians had their work cut out for them.

Just as the other evangelists, Luke combs the Old Testament for appropriate passages with which to illuminate the life and death of Jesus. Psalm 16, originally referring to King David, finds new life as a witness to Jesus. The Messiah was supposed to be a powerful and triumphant figure — definitely not slated for a humiliating death on the cross. Not only was the crucifixion of Jesus difficult for Christians to understand, it was a source of scandal. The taunts of outsiders about their “dead Messiah” probably added to the pain and confusion. Even their inspired proclamation and prayer after the infusion of the spirit at Pentecost was greeted with derision and accusations of drunkenness.

Peter does not pull any punches: he makes it clear that Jesus packed all the credentials of an emissary from God — powers, wonders and signs. In spite of all this, he was handed over for execution at the hands of pagans. But for Peter, the resurrection of Jesus is not surprising at all. Because of who He is, there is no way that Jesus could have been held captive to death. Goodness and light cannot be thwarted or sidetracked for very long. He also insists that everything happened according to divine plan, despite the machinations of human beings. God always has the final word.

Reverent fear is an ancient way of saying “to be in awe of God and to take Him seriously.” God is impartial; God does not play favourites and cannot be manipulated — so don’t try to play games with Him. God’s love and trustworthiness is affirmed tremendously by the fact that our redemption in Christ was already planned before the foundation of the world. There has never been a single moment on this Earth in which God was not planning and working for our well-being and redemption. Not one.

Human heart and spirits are often crushed by tragedy, failure and disappointment. Some people never recover — their lives are forever altered. But most people can bear and even overcome almost anything if they can find meaning in their suffering or situation. The suffering and death of Jesus, whom His followers had believed to be the Messiah, was a massive stumbling block. Two disciples who encounter Jesus “incognito” on the road to Emmaus are suddenly lifted out of despair by the realization that everything that had happened “made sense.” The two disciples are leaving Jerusalem with heavy hearts, unable to comprehend or accept the chaotic and violent events of the past few days. All of their hopes, dreams and expectations concerning Jesus were dashed to pieces by His arrest and execution. They have even seen the empty tomb but are unmoved. They are in the position of so many: they have the data but lack the understanding.

After His rather playful questioning of the two disciples, Jesus must open the meaning of Scripture for them to explain why it was absolutely necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die in order to enter into glory. It was not an accident, and He was not a helpless victim. What seemed so bleak and tragic is not only bearable but charged with significance. Rather than a failure or a scandal, the crucifixion was a necessary step in the drama of redemption.

Perhaps not every event in our lives has a meaning of transcendental importance. But every event will have the meaning that we are willing to give it — namely, our response to the situation. Can it be used for our own growth and understanding or for the good of others? The most painful and difficult experience can be transformed into something positive if we so choose, and in a mysterious way it fits into the big picture. But it was only in the breaking of the bread that they were able to recognize the presence of the Risen Lord.

“Breaking of the bread” is Luke’s codeword for the life of the community as it is described in the Book of Acts (also written by Luke). It represents not a ritual but a life of openness, sharing, prayer and communion with one another. That is where we meet the Lord and that is where our lives — whatever form they may take — find meaning in God.