Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Christ’s death paved the way to life in the past, present and future

Published: April 5, 2003

By Father Andrew Smith

It is not easy to understand all that is happening in the Gospel reading for Passion (Palm) Sunday, even with the benefit of hindsight and the experience of the Church. How much harder must it have been for the disciples, who found themselves in the very middle of the proceedings?

They lurch from the intimacy and trust of the Last Supper to the pain and loneliness in the garden, then on to the confusion and fear of the trial. The fear leads to panic, so they flee, and finally they hear the news their master is dead. These are the same men who saw the many miracles worked by Jesus, and realized he made a difference wherever he went.

However, on Good Friday they didn’t understand what was going on and were afraid for their lives. Nonetheless, for all their lack of faith, courage and fidelity, this was not the end of their relationship with Jesus. Soon after the crucifixion, they realized the full significance of what had happened that day on Calvary, and their lives were changed forever.

In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ identity is fully affirmed, not by one of his close disciples, but by one of his executioners. When Jesus dies the centurion states: “In truth, this man is a Son of God.” Here is a soldier who was not around Jesus during the glory days, witnessing miracles and conversions. Nevertheless, in the death of Jesus, he finds something extraordinary, something out of this world.

There was obviously something in the way Jesus died which moved the hearts of people who otherwise wouldn’t have cared about him. Death has not ended this story; the best is yet to come. When, in our quieter moments, we sit confused, wondering about Jesus and our faith in him, it is all too easy to think, “If only I had been around 2,000 years ago and had known Jesus in the flesh.

If only I had been one of his disciples and had seen him cure and preach. If only … then my faith in Jesus would be stronger and my relationship with him would be more real.” Nevertheless, the reality is we just don’t know how we would have reacted, had we been around all those years ago. We might as well have fled, sided with the authorities and probably shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The fact we were not with Jesus during his earthly ministry does not prevent us from coming to know and follow him now. By dying, Jesus opened the way to the Father for us now, for the people who have gone before us and for those yet to come. His earthly life was limited to a specific period of history, but through his death and resurrection, he is now outside time and accessible to us all.

We can know Jesus today, because he is the same now as he was 2,000 years ago. As we make the journey with Jesus through this coming Holy Week, let us be sure to take time to deepen our appreciation of what he has done for us. Then, like the centurion, we will be able to proclaim Jesus is truly the Son of God. It is never too late to meet him.