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Focusing the Gospel

Key words and phrasesI AM, I am a king, What is truth?, It is finished
To the point: On this day when we remember in solemn celebration that Jesus suffered and died for us, we are reminded that this is not a somber day, but a day to celebrate the glory of the cross. Jesus embraced death so that the glory of new Life might burst forth.
A prayer starter:  

The first reading begins with “See, my servant … shall be … greatly exalted … ” The second reading invites us to “confidently approach the throne of grace … ” In the Gospel acclamation we sing that “God greatly exalted” Christ. None of these passages speaks of a focus this day on suffering and death (although that is popularly what tends to be). Rather, this day speaks of exaltation and glory. Today we celebrate the glory of the cross. Rather than an instrument of death, it is an instrument bringing forth Life. Rather than a tool for torture, it is a tool for Jesus’ most profound act of self-giving. Rather than wood marking the finality of death, it is wood marking the beginning of Jesus’ eternal glory.

If we hear John’s passion account with an ear tuned to exaltation, we can reverse the self-serving deceit of Jesus’ betrayers and opponents to interpret Jesus’ passion and death as events promising glory. For whom the soldiers say they are looking (“Jesus the Nazarene,” a mere man, so they think) is truly the divine “I AM.” Peter’s impetuosity and violence in cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave becomes a moment of embracing destiny. Peter’s thrice denial is later reversed by a thrice declaration of love. What is intended to be mockery (“Hail, King of the Jews!”) speaks the profoundest truth. What is intended to be the end of life (“Crucify him, crucify him!”) is the beginning of risen Life. What is an objectionable claim (“he made himself the Son of God”) is eternally true. Knowing the end of the story colors how we hear the whole story.

In John’s account there are no thieves hanging on either side of Jesus. There is no outcry of despair from his lips. Instead, Jesus continues his self-giving: he gives his mother into the care of the beloved disciple. When he dies, he simply announces, “It is finished.” What is finished is the limits of how we know Jesus and the limits of the life we know. “It is finished” opens Jesus and us to glory. “It is finished” opens the door to “I AM.” It alerts us to a new reign by a glorious King who lives forever in his eternal kingdom. But he also lives forever in his faithful disciples.

As faithful followers of Jesus, all our actions are directed toward the good of another. Unlike Jesus, we do not carry our cross alone; we always have the support of the other members of the Body of Christ. Most importantly, we have the Presence, care, and love of the self-giving Jesus with us at all times, encouraging us and strengthening us in our own hour of need. We have Jesus’ model of dignity and self-surrender. Jesus shows us how in all the simple acts of our everyday living we manifest the glory of the cross. We upend the limits of our own human living to participate in divine Life and holiness. By embracing the glory of the cross we enter into Jesus’ self-giving and loving that make present God’s great desire for all God’s beloved ones: that we be one with the divine Majesty in the fullness of time. Like Jesus, we must be willing to give ourselves over for others so that the glory of new Life might burst forth from us. This is God’s Presence. This is God’s holiness made visible. This is glory.

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Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis
for Sundays and Solemnities
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Brian Schmisek, Diana Macalintal, and Katy Beedle Rice

Living Liturgy 2014

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