Homily to Start Passiontide

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

We have reached the holiest time of year, when we study the death of Jesus Christ. [Spanish]

For the ancient Israelites, these opening weeks of spring meant focusing on the death of the Passover Lamb, whose blood marked the homes of the chosen ones. The people marched across the bed of the Red Sea, to freedom. Then the water swallowed up their enemies, to the glory of God.

That was the annual rite in the days of the Old Covenant. But at Holy Mass on Sunday we hear the prophet exhort us, in the name of God: Remember not these old exploits of mine. Don’t dwell on what I did for your ancient fathers. After all, I will do great things for you! I make a way through the desert for you to walk, and the very jackals and ostriches will chant like a choir as you pass down the highway to the Promised Land.

This highway opens before us. It invites us, beckons us. With beautifully obscure clarity. With shimmering darkness. With enticing terror. Because the highway to heaven is the cruel and agonizing death of Christ.

adam-eveWe read at Holy Mass on Sunday: They came to test Him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him.

From the beginning, our Creator asked only for obedience. ‘See! I set you in a garden of happiness. Just acknowledge reality, bow before your Father Who made you, and I will provide for you.’

But we replied, ‘No, thank You! We’ll try our own luck with our own knowledge and pride. Thanks anyway.’

We began to sin at the beginning, we children who God made for Himself. But the true enormity of our original sin—the extent of its utterly foolish malice—only became evident when the Creator came to be with us, one of us, sharing in our human weakness.

The scribes and Pharisees looked, and trawled, and went fishing for something against Him. “Won’t you condemn the adulteress, rabbi?”

“Will you?”

They quailed at Christ’s serene, God-like silence. They knew that they, too, had broken faith.They slunk away.

But then the pride and malice of our original sin truly showed itself. Those who would trap the Christ slunk away, but not for good. Our loving Creator loved us, mercifully loved us. But we did not love Him. We did not see that He would, in fact, give us all good things, and heaven besides.

No, in return for His love, we crucified Him.

You figure this constitutes a pretty overwhelming condemnation of the human race: Guilty of killing our Maker. He walked among us as an innocent lamb, pouring out at every turn the infinite love with which He began the whole business of our existence in the first place. And we killed Him for it.

So we stand guilty not just of saying, ‘No, thanks,’ to the peaceful garden He offered us in the beginning, if only we would acknowledge Him—but guilty, also, of spitting in His face, pummeling His ribcage with blows, lacerating His flesh, and reviling Him unto death.

What is human sin? This.

Grunewald the Small Crucifixion

How bad sinners are we, really? Bad enough to scourge our Creator, crown His beautiful head with thorns, nail His hands and feet to wooden beams, and leave Him to die in bitter agony, with crows circling.

We stand condemned—condemned by these cold, hard facts of history. We crucified God.

Here we are, Lord, like the woman caught in the act of adultery. Our love for You has not been faithful, like Yours has been for us. The Law of Moses prescribes stoning. We deserve to die. What do You say?

We hear Him say it at Sunday’s Mass. ‘I do not condemn you.’

St. Paul puts it so well for us (in Sunday’s second reading):

Everything else is so much rubbish. I don’t care about it at all. If only I can be found in Christ. He is my justice, my righteousness, my holiness.  He is my wisdom. I gladly embrace my share in the mystery of His death. I gladly give myself over completely to the One Who died for me.

Let me just believe in Jesus, and press on down the holy highway. I hope, with the hope of a child, that in the end I will share His glorious resurrection.

May our church observances of the coming weeks draw us closer together as a people. And closer to Christ, the Savior of sinners.

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