His passion, death and resurrection

Mount Calvary – This shrine marks the place where Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem

The climactic part of Jesus’ life on earth is called the Passion. The Passion refers to the sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion on mount Calvary. Jesus foretold these events and made it clear to his disciples that he would suffer freely for the salvation of the world (Mt 20:18-19).

After his Last Supper, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane outside the walls of Jerusalem. He was tried, found guilty and then handed over to Pontius Pilate who had him crucified. He was scourged, crowned with thorns and led to the hill of Calvary carrying his cross. He died between two thieves. As he died he said, “It is accomplished” (Jn 19:30).

Scripture and Tradition are clear that Jesus’ death sacrificial death has ransomed us from sin and reconciled us to God. As St Peter says, “You know that you were ransomed ... with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18). Scripture also assures us of the many fruits of Christ’s sacrifice. By means of his sacrifice, Jesus has: repaid our debt of guilt (Mt 20:28); gained mercy for us and repealed our punishment (Mt 26:28); defeated the claims of the devil over us (Jn 12:31); reconciled us to God (2 Cor 5:19); and fulfilled Scripture and salvation history (Col 1:20). Exactly how Jesus’ death has produced such fruitfulness does remain something of a mystery. Indeed, a complete answer to this question may well be beyond our comprehension. What we do know, however, is that on the cross, Jesus suffered the effects of sin for us, his divine love revoking the offence of all sins and bearing the pain and cost of sin in itself. The key words are ‘love’ and ‘sacrifice’: it is a mistake to think of Christ’s death in cold and calculating terms, as if an angry God needed someone to suffer to placate his wrath. It is more truthful to say that, united with us out of love, Christ took our sins upon himself that we might live.
Central to Christianity is the historical conviction that Jesus was raised up bodily from his tomb just after three days. St Peter states that Jesus rose physically: “[we] ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41), but his glorified body had extraordinary new abilities. He appeared at different times and places, and his body, though glorified and transformed in appearance, still bore the wounds of the crucifixion (Jn 20:28).

The physicality of the Resurrection of Jesus, witnessed by so many, rules out the claim that only Jesus’ soul or ghost returned, or that only his message lived on, or that he merely revived, or that it was all an elaborate hoax.

Although Jesus only appeared to certain witnesses after the Resurrection, the number and variety of witnesses gives a secure foundation for belief on the basis of testimonial evidence. Indeed, St Paul records that Jesus had appeared to several hundred people (1Cor 15:6). There is not one instance of any of these witnesses to the risen Jesus denying the Resurrection later, even in the face of persecution and death. Those of us who are not in this group rely on these witnesses, whose lives were fruitful in proclaiming the truth of the Resurrection and whose words and actions are recorded in the New Testament. Nevertheless, while it might appear that these chosen witnesses to the Resurrection were specially privileged, Jesus says that it is those have not seen and yet believe who are blessed (John 20:29). As with much of Revelation, God reveals himself in a way that invites us to believe rather than compels belief, allowing us freedom to accept him or reject him. With regard to the Resurrection, two other points should be noted. First, no definitive proof can be offered against the Resurrection, since the tomb in which Jesus had been laid after his crucifixion was found to be empty on the third day, despite being under a Roman guard (Mt 27:66). Second, certain physical signs in the world today may bear witness, indirectly, to the truth of the Resurrection. In particular, the bodies of some of the saints, such as St Bernadette, have not decayed in the normal way and remain in good condition for decades or even centuries (cf. Acts 2:27). While the souls of these saints are in heaven, the preservation of their bodies from normal decay can be interpreted as a foreshadowing or prophecy of the final Resurrection from the dead at the end of time.

By his Resurrection, Jesus confirmed the validity of all he taught and did, showed that human life does not cease with death and manifested the reality of a glorified risen humanity.

Jesus ascends into heaven after forty days of appearances and teaching following his Resurrection. This is his physical departure from his disciples. Scripture records him ascending to heaven, which signifies the “definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain” (ccc. 665). Jesus is now in heaven, where he intercedes and prepares a place for us, and from where he shall come again at the end of time.

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