We wonder why Jesus ministry had to end this way. Why was it necessary for Jesus to die? They are very reasonable questions, but they are not questions that we would ask if we truly understand what Jesus promised. Take St Peter for example. Jesus prophesied that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter objected and said – Never Lord – this will never happen to you. But did Peter hear Jesus properly. It is very likely that Peter didn’t hear fully what Jesus said. It is likely that once he heard Jesus say that he must be killed that he stopped paying attention. And that’s what death does.
When we hear about death, especially about the death of someone we love it can also make us wonder why. Why does life end? Why is it necessary to die? But Peter needed to listen to Jesus and the totality of what he said as he said that after he was killed, on the third day he would be raised to life. But even as Christians we don’t always think of that when we are confronted with death. We don’t automatically think of eternal life when someone we love dies. We are usually so grief stricken that we cannot see past the reality of death. Even St Paul acknowledges that when he speaks of Christ’s victory over death. He says: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas death no longer has victory because of Jesus’ death and resurrection it certainly still carries its sting. And that sting is evident every time we sit at the bedside of a loved one – as we watch the coffin lowered into the grave, as we visit the gravesite of our loved ones – the sting of grief in death remains. But Paul also reminds us that we grieve but not as those who have no hope. We have hope because we know that the grave will not hold Jesus for long. We know that on the third day that he will rise. But those 3 days are so long when it’s someone we love.
Even though we know that we will be reunited with all our loved ones as we await the resurrection it is so hard because the grief is so deep. Asking “why” about death or questioning God’s love because of death won’t remove the sting of death from our experience. Our loved ones will continue to face the reality of death and we shall continue to face the reality of our own death.
Death is a reality of life.
The only way to truly find comfort in death is to listen carefully to what Jesus said about his own death. On the third day I will be raised to life. Without death there can be no resurrection. Without Jesus’ resurrection we will never see death in any other way than an horrific event. Even Jesus’ own death is meaningless without that final part that Peter missed – on the third day I will be raised to life.
To outsiders, a battered and broken Jesus who could no longer hold his head up and died in humiliation and defeat could not possibly be anything but a reminder of the pain and finality of death and no hope at all. But to those who believe into him, the true Son of God has completed his great work of defeating death and he cries out “it is finished”. But what is finished? Death’s victory is finished. As St Paul says – the message of the cross if foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. And the power of God is that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead we too shall be raised to eternal life. Jesus’ announcement, “It is finished” is clear and simple. No long explanations of how – no detailed sermon of what you have to do. Just “it is finished”
Jesus has completed his task that God sent him to do. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and eternal life.
He came to give us the victory of death – the same victory over death that he achieved. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom of heaven and live forever. That’s why Jesus had to die because in order to defeat death he had to die and rise from death. And just as Jesus has risen from the dead, you too shall live a new life when you die.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over death. Amen