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Archbishop Lucas: Jesus died for us and is now risen!

In this week’s interview, communications manager David Hazen asks Archbishop George J. Lucas how we can celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus more meaningfully, so that it will bear more fruit in our lives.

Q:  As we observe the triduum once again this year, how can we enter into these holy days in a way that isn’t simply rote or routine?

We celebrate different aspects of what we call the Paschal mystery – how God saves us in his son Jesus Christ. It really is the pivotal point of the Church’s liturgical year. That means it should also be a pivotal moment for us in our spiritual lives.

We celebrate these feasts every year, and so we are familiar with the story: the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his last supper with his disciples where he instituted the holy Eucharist and the sacred priesthood, his arrest and trial, and then his passion, death, burial and resurrection. So, while we may know intellectually what happened 2,000 years ago, each of us is at a different place on our own spiritual pilgrimage year by year. We find ourselves experiencing life differently, and facing different challenges and consolations than we did last year or 10 years ago. It is a gift the church gives us to be able to celebrate these sacred mysteries of our faith each year. 

My invitation is for everybody to participate. The Lord has something very beautiful to reveal to us. He really invites us into the mystery of his death and resurrection so that we can experience the power of it, right here and right now. So it’s not so much a matter of our having to do something for the Lord or do something for our faith, but rather to allow ourselves to receive what the Lord is inviting us to experience.

Q: Because we believe the Lord is risen, it seems we can sometimes be tempted to gloss over his suffering and death, or to relate to it as purely an historical event. How do we hold these realities – the Cross and the empty tomb – in tension?

That is a great question, because our experience in this life until we see the Lord face to face is living in this tension. We have been redeemed and are able to experience now the benefits of the Lord’s resurrection (the forgiveness of sins, receiving him in the Eucharist, the gifts of the Holy Spirit). At the same time, though, he tells us that in order to be his disciples, we have to take up the cross.

It is our experience in this world that life is limited and that suffering is part of our lives here. Sometimes it is the suffering we bring on ourselves, and sometimes it’s suffering that others inflict on us. Sometimes it’s suffering that is the result of original sin: Things go wrong, we get sick, we have a terrible flood, and so on. Without the Cross and resurrection of Jesus, those would be frustrating and aggravating experiences at best. Jesus invites us to unite ourselves and all of our daily experiences – including our suffering – to his Cross, so that it becomes part of his act of redemption and begins to bear fruit through the power of his death and resurrection.

It is clear to us through the eyes of faith that his suffering has been redemptive. It was an act of obedience: He offered himself to the Father on the altar of the Cross, not because he needed to make up for anything, but for our sake. And so his suffering, which was real, has borne fruit in our redemption, because he is risen from the dead. 

If the Lord were not risen, there would be nothing to celebrate – certainly not Good Friday. 

Jesus made huge claims about the relationship he has with his Heavenly Father, and those are all shown to be true through the power of his resurrection.  We are able to look at the Cross on Good Friday and see the terrible effects of human sinfulness, to accept that reality, and so to stand there in front of it.

Yet we know now that that is not the end of the story. Sin and death are not the end because God has intervened in human history. We call it salvation history: God has intervened for our sake in the person of his Son, Jesus, who has taken sin and death upon himself. The Scripture says he has “become sin,” taking on the effects of sin, the experience of our broken humanity. He took all of it on himself and transformed it, owned it, and made it right through the power of his resurrection.

A few years ago in a homily for a confirmation Mass I asked those being confirmed to take a one-question quiz. I asked them, “What’s the single most important thing we can say about our faith?” And the answer is: Jesus is alive. If Jesus is not alive, we can just toss out the Catechism and all of our Catholic practices. 

Because he is alive, when he tells us that we take and eat his body and drink his blood in the Eucharist, we can believe him. And we know because of his power as the Son of God, when he tells us that our sins are forgiven and we hear those words in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, we can believe it.

So Jesus is not dead, he’s alive. That gives us the courage and the ability to stand at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday and really take it all in because we know that that is not the end. It’s an absolutely essential part of Jesus’ story, and ours too, but it isn’t the end. The Cross and the resurrection go together. 

We are ultimately an Easter people. We are alive in the risen Jesus through a life he shared with us in baptism. We become part of his body and it’s a risen body. 

But as long as we are in this world, we also experience the cross. Jesus invites us to take it up in obedience to the will of God, in humility and self-denial in union with him. We can be confident that he is not going to abandon us there, and that this willing embrace of the cross counts for something in what we call the economy of salvation – that is, in God’s plan for how everything fits together, which we cannot see yet in its entirety.

Q: You mentioned the need for us to be receptive to what the Lord offers in these days. How can we be more attentive and receptive witnesses to the resurrection as we celebrate the Easter season?

After the resurrection, Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples, sending them out to preach the Gospel, to baptize, to bring the news of salvation to the ends of the earth. It was their conviction that Jesus is alive that gave them the energy and made their witness so powerful. 

We should wonder if the same could be said about us. As we celebrate these holy days, my encouragement to all of us who are disciples of Jesus is to ask: Do we believe that Jesus is alive and can we count the experiences of that in our own lives? If we take the time to reflect on it, I think the answer will be yes for all of us.

Jesus is unique in all of human history. God’s action on our behalf in Jesus is unique. There is no other way to be saved except in and through Jesus Christ. So celebrating these holy days helps us believe it, and to be renewed in faith. 

We renew our profession of faith on Easter, and we should try to do that wholeheartedly. And then the question is, if I really believe that God has loved us and saved us, and Jesus has died, but now is risen from the dead, what does that mean for me? How does that change my relationships? How does it change the way I use material things? How does it change the way I use my time? How does it change the way I relate to the least of my brothers and sisters? 

Jesus is the Son of God.  He died for us and is now risen.  That is the most important thing we know. It is bound to make a big difference in our own lives, and Jesus alive in us will have an impact on others.

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