“He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead” – Apostles’ Creed
As we have recently come to the end of our Lenten journey toward Easter, let us take a moment to meditate on three pivotal lines from the ancient creed, which comprise the central events of our redemption.
Far from being a mere myth or legend, in Jerusalem around the year 30 A.D., Jesus Christ – the Son of God made man – was tortured at the hands of the Romans. He was flogged, beaten, spit upon, and crowned with thorns. He was made to carry the cross through the crowded streets to Golgotha and, once there, He was crucified – He was nailed to a cross and died. Just as someday we will each be laid in our graves, Jesus was laid in His.
The most obvious question that confronts the observer of this horrific reality is “why?” Luckily, Christ made the impetus for His self-sacrifice quite clear: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).
The reasons Christ died on the cross are twofold, one negative and one positive. The negative cause is sin. Only in witnessing the cost of redemption – the death of the Son of God – can we begin to comprehend the profound magnitude of sin: “You were bought with a price,” says St. Paul (1 Cor 6:20).
Conversely, Christ willingly accepted the cross because of love. St. John famously says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Uniting these two causes, St. Paul says, “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
In His limitless compassion, Christ entered into the fullness of human suffering – physical torment, emotional agony and utter isolation – so that He might share complete solidarity with mankind. Accordingly, His passion and death not only accomplished our redemption, but by the cross, He also showed us the way to true discipleship. For Christ taught His disciples long before His crucifixion, “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
Christ’s is the final and perfect covenant between God and man, and it is a covenant of love, with Christ Himself as its high priest. Nevertheless, this covenant is not based on love as popular culture conceives of it, but love as Christ displayed it: “The way we came to know love was that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
Joined with the passion, Christ’s resurrection is the key to the entire Gospel – for in rising from the dead, Jesus proved true His bold promises. He had prophesied to the apostles, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10:18). The resurrection vindicates this promise and validates His teaching and miracles.
Furthermore, Christ, “the firstborn from the dead,” opened the door to eternal life and to new creation (Col 1:18). Out of the darkness of despair, the scattered and frightened disciples saw the risen Christ and were renewed and transformed. Filled with faith in the crucified and resurrected Savior, they evangelized the known world.
St. Paul summarizes the centrality of the redemptive power of the Easter Triduum with his characteristic zeal: “If Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14-17).
This Easter, let us respond to the glory of Christ’s resurrection by exclaiming, as St. Thomas the Apostle did, “My Lord and my God!” And may each of us be filled with faith in God of our salvation, hope in the rewards He has won for us, and love for Him who has deigned to bestow them on us.