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, 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 the 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. What happened when I was present when some of them died was surprising. I was blessed with an experience of peace. This was in contrast to another time that I thought another resident, Richard, had died when I arrived on my shift. I was distraught until I found out only his room was changed.
The most important lesson I learned from these moments of grace and more to follow when experiencing death, was to not take life for granted. Life is fragile and when we are able to contemplate and face the impending reality of our own deaths as well as those we love, I do believe that we live more fully. And when we experience this practice 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. I brought it with me when JoAnn and I moved to CA after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.