Imagine that you have traveled back to the year AD 63 and are sitting with the apostle John, who is telling you what it was like to be on Calvary as Jesus gave his life for us on the cross.
“When Jesus was arrested after our Passover meal, most of us ran away. It was probably the darkest moment of my life. Jesus had just shown us at the meal how much he was willing to give for us, and I couldn't stay with him in his moment of need. He had sacrificed three years teaching us, encouraging us, loving us, and healing us—and I couldn't risk sacrificing anything for him.
“When I realized what I had done, I knew I couldn't stay in hiding. I asked God to forgive me for running away, and I began searching high and low for Jesus. When I finally caught up with him, he was being led to Calvary.
Father, Forgive Them
“I pushed through the crowd just in time to see the soldiers driving the spikes into Jesus' hands. And amidst the noise of the crowds, the pounding of the hammers, and Jesus' own cries of pain, I heard him say, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). When I first heard this, I wondered whom he was praying for. Was it the Jewish rulers who had condemned him? Was it Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who had flogged him, beaten him, and crucified him? Or maybe it was us, who had been with him so long and yet abandoned him at the very end?
“But over the years as I've prayed and talked about this with the other apostles, I realized that Jesus was doing exactly what he had taught us to do. For as long as we were with him, he kept telling us that we had to forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22). Now here he was, being just as free with his mercy as he always told us to be.
Free to Forgive
“As we reflect on this beautiful act of Jesus on Good Friday, we see just how far God's forgiveness reached. Peter knew that he was forgiven for having denied Jesus. Thomas knew he was forgiven for his lack of faith. We were all forgiven for having run away. Now we know that no one is beyond God's mercy. Jesus proved it when he forgave the soldiers who mocked him, the chief priests who condemned him, and even Judas, who betrayed him.
“Hearing Jesus speak words of forgiveness even as nails were being driven into him, even as he was being hung on the cross, even as he had to gasp for every breath, we all need to ask whether we are willing to forgive just as fully. And today, I'd like to ask you: Is there any way you need to follow Jesus' example and forgive? Are there people whose forgiveness you need to seek? Don't hold back. Remember Jesus and all he gave up for you. Then ask his Spirit to help you be just as generous.
Jesus, Remember Me
“A little bit later, something very moving happened to one of the thieves who was crucified next to Jesus. It seemed as if Jesus' love and humility—and the way in which he embraced such an unjust death—changed this man. He defended Jesus when the other thief started insulting him. Then he turned and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And again, in the midst of his agony, Jesus reached out in love and mercy. ‘Today,’ he told the man, ‘you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43).
“It's amazing that Jesus would welcome this sinner into his kingdom with just as much assurance as he welcomed Peter, James, and the rest of the apostles—men who had given up so much to follow him. But this thief has become a reminder to me that anyone who turns to Jesus will be received into heaven.
“Again, the depth of his mercy and love is overwhelming. And again, consider: Is there someone whom you have given up on? Is there someone whom you think will never be welcomed into heaven? Don't judge! Don't condemn! Don't forget that you are just as unworthy as he was. Don't forget that you needed salvation through the cross just as much as this thief did. Jesus didn't condemn this man. He didn't condemn his disciples, even though they had deserted him. He won't turn anyone away, and he asks us to be just as open and merciful—even to our enemies.
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
“Jesus' words just before he died were probably confusing to the apostles: ‘My God, my God,’ he cried out, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). It’s hard to believe that Jesus, who was always close to the Father, could be abandoned by his Father at his moment of greatest suffering and need. Would God really turn away from him just as his Son was performing the greatest act of obedience the world would ever know?
“However, Jesus felt separated from his Father because he was carrying our sins. He was speaking both from the crushing pain of his crucifixion and from the relentless spiritual attacks he was enduring. This was Satan's pivotal moment. If there was any chance of getting Jesus to deny his Father and turn away from his commitment to us, it was now. The spiritual assault he was enduring was so violent that it must have felt as if he were separated from his Father. At the same time, he must have known in his heart that God would never abandon him. This cry that issued from his bloodied lips and his parched mouth was both an acknowledgment of the battle he was fighting and an affirmation that even if it felt as if God had left him, he would not abandon God.”
Just as Jesus felt forsaken and abandoned by God on the cross, the same can happen to us. St. John must have felt that way at times, especially when he and Peter and James were arrested, or when they were beaten or mocked for telling people about Jesus. At these times they held onto trust in God and confidence that Jesus was with them, even if it felt as if he'd abandoned them. Are there times when you feel alone and forsaken? Are you wondering whether God has left you in a situation of confusion, struggle, or pain? He hasn't. Remember the psalm: "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted" (Psalm 34:18). He is always with you!
Behold the Man
So many other things happened that day. Jesus said and did so much, even as he hung in agony and his life's blood slowly left his body. There's so much more you can receive and experience as you ponder Jesus' death. As you read the passion stories, take Pilate's advice and "behold the man" (John 19:5). Behold the man, wounded and bruised, crowned with thorns. Behold the man, who was despised and rejected. Behold the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.
But behold also the man who loved you so much that he gave up everything for you. Behold the man who endured the nails, the whip, the thorns, and the cross for you. Behold the man who endured the weight of sin, the onslaught of the devil, and the loneliness of desertion for you. Behold him and bow down in worship and love. Behold him and give him your life. Behold him and know that he has won for you a place in heaven.
When Peter, James, and the rest saw Jesus on Easter Sunday, they beheld Jesus again—this time as a glorified man—and their hearts were filled with joy. This Lent, behold the glorified Jesus. Fix your heart on him as he is seated in heaven, pouring out grace upon grace into your heart. Behold him every time you celebrate Mass and recall the love he poured out at the Last Supper. Behold him in your family and neighbors and love and serve them just as he has loved and served you. Finally, behold him in the poor and suffering and imitate him by washing their feet. May God bless you.