It is never easy to pray on the passion and death of Jesus. Once we begin to meditate and reflect on Jesus’ death, it brings us perilously close to our own – not that such pray will lead to the end of our physical life – rather that this reflection makes us confront the reality that if the Son of God could not escape death as a human being, why do we think we are any different.
We live in a culture that eschews death. While our culture is not exactly a life-affirming culture, it is one that wants to ignore the realities involved with the end of our earthly life. People seldom die at home anymore – hospitals or nursing homes have become the venue for this rite of passage – and that usually with the mind that if there is a crisis every modern medical apparatus necessary to prolong life is available. Even when we finally die, death has no longer any place in our home. We long ago turned to “funeral parlors” or “funeral homes” for the final preparations necessary to dispose of our mortal remains. One of the reasons for the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of “final disposition” is that it helps us to avoid the realities of dying – that the body begins to decay and turn to dust. Few people spend any time with a corpse. Instead, we pay people to make it as “clean and tidy” as possible. I may digress a bit here and some of my colleagues in the funeral industry may take issue with these observations but on the whole, I think they are accurate.
Jesus’ death was anything but “neat and tidy.” It was painful, awful and extremely messy. He was tortured and executed in the most gruesome way possible. In thinking on this unpleasant end, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was truly human – regardless of what anyone might think of his divine status. Truly human – and experiencing death in the worst possible way. As we affirm the incarnation (that the Word was “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”), we also affirm that this Jesus knows our deepest fears – including suffering and death. Praying on this reality through this week forces us to realize that we, too, will die, but that in that inescapable reality, we cannot deny that the God to whom we pray knows firsthand the deepest suffering of any human person. It becomes the basis for hope – that no matter how bad it gets, there is always the possibility of redemption and resurrection.
-- read Philippians 2: 5-11