Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief (Mt 17:22-23).
This is the second time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus shares with his disciples that he will die soon. They are overwhelmed with grief because their focus is on the first part of Jesus’ statement that he will be handed over to death. They do not understand or yet comprehend the second part about how he will be raised on the third day. How could they? There was no point of reference for them. Jesus did bring three people back to life during his ministry, but Jesus would not be merely resuscitated as they were and just die again. Jesus would resurrect and conquer death.
For us today, we can read today’s Gospel about the impending death of Jesus and gloss over it a bit too easily because we celebrate Easter each year, we celebrate that Jesus has risen. Yet, do we really take in what this means? Does the fact of the Resurrection, the reality that Jesus has conquered death and become the firstborn of the new creation really have relevance in our lives?
The life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus matters! The missing piece for those for whom this statement doesn’t register any relevance may be that they do not want to think about death all that much. To be honest, none of us really want to come face to face with our own mortality, and most of us don’t until we or a loved one is forced to.
Beginning the summer after my freshman year of college, I began working second shift in a nursing home as a CNA. It was the first time that I experienced death up close through the care of the residents I worked with. They were not merely patients but became family. I experienced, with each person who I was blessed to be with when they died, an experience of a peace that surpassed all understanding, that transcended the moment.
The most important lesson I learned from these moments of grace was to not take life for granted. Life is fragile and when we are able to contemplate and face our own death, I do believe that we live our lives more fully. And when we experience this exercise with the one who conquered death, the possibilities in our lives become unlimited.
Jesus understands each of our struggles and tribulations, our sins and our failings, as well as our deepest hopes and dreams. Jesus also knows about our deepest fear of death, for he, as a human being, experienced it too in the Garden of Gethsemane. The gift of the crucifix, the beautiful sacramental object of Jesus on the Cross, is a reminder to us all that death does not have the final answer, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, does.
Photo: Crucifix I have had with me since my early twenties. It now hangs in JoAnn and my apartment bedroom.