The Cross, our door to heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 10 April 2022
Isaiah 50:4-7  +++  Philippians 2:6-11  +++  Luke 23:1-49
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Officially we begin today the Holy Week leading to the Triduum of the Lord with Easter, the Mother of all feasts in the Church. Today we enter the “innermost room” of the house of God our Father after our 40 day journey in Lent.

We are actually celebrating today two distinct rites merged into one, the procession and blessing of palms to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem that led to his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday which we heard in the gospel proclaimed earlier. As early in the fourth century, Christians in Jerusalem have been commemorating the Lord’s entry to Jerusalem from the city gate while a hundred years later, the Pope ushered in the Holy Week in Rome by proclaiming the long gospel we have heard of the Lord’s crucifixion and death. With the reforms of the liturgy in 1963 at Vatican II, these two celebrations were merged as one with the designation as “Palm Sunday in the Passion of the Lord”.

More than a going back to the past, our celebration today reminds us of the ever-newness of Christ’s saving work and love for us while at the same time assuring us of the future that would bring us into the fullness of life in him with the Father in heaven. This we find in the last three words recorded to us by Luke while Jesus was on the Cross.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The mercy and forgiveness of God

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

Very consistent with his theme of the mercy and forgiveness of God to us as shown the other Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, a.k.a. the parable of the prodigal son, Luke presents to us again this most wondrous and touching trait of God in Christ even while crucified.

Again, only Luke has this detail of Jesus praying forgiveness for his enemies while being reviled and mocked by them on the cross.

It is another example of Luke’s artistry in presenting to us God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ in a sort of play of words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” as we confront our selves with the question, “what do we really know?”

What do we really know at all that we continue to crucify Jesus today, nailing him on the cross with our many sins as we pretend and assume to know so many things in life?

Until now, we still have wars raging in various parts of the world, and more than half of these conflicts according to studies are ironically due to our different religious beliefs! Until now debates continue as everyone would want to have the power to decide for themselves who shall live and who shall die, from abortions to artificial contraceptives to capital punishment. Until now we pretend to know the truth and yet the more we have shown our ignorance as our problems become more complex than ever leading to more deaths, more disillusions, more anxieties and more emptiness in life.

And right there on the cross, Jesus continues to pray to the Father to forgive us for we do not know what we are doing to pave the way for the conversion of more others like Paul who realized he “acted out of ignorance in my unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). In his other book the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us how Peter said in a speech to the people how they “acted out of ignorance in putting Jesus to death” (3:17). Here we find Luke driving at the basic truth how so often it is in our sinfulness and “ignorance” that eventually we come to “know” and realize God who is always ready with his unfailing mercy and forgiveness. The key is to emulate Dimas, the good thief crucified at the other side of Jesus on that Good Friday.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The promise of Paradise

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43

Imagine the evil that men do portrayed by Luke in Christ’s crucifixion, of the relentless insults and mockery by the people on the ground and even up there on the cross when one of those hanging reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”(Lk.23:39).

See how we are not contented and satisfied in putting others to shame but would even bury them deeply with insults as we say in Filipino, “baon na baon”. But, all is not lost as there is always a glimmer of hope. especially among the sinners and the ignorant who open themselves to god’s grace like Dimas who rebuked his fellow criminal, reminding him how they deserved the punishment but not Jesus “who has done nothing criminal” (Lk.23:41). It was at that instance when he snatched heaven by telling the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk.23:42).

And we all know the response of Jesus, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a great God do we really have in Jesus Christ! Despite the pains and sufferings of being nailed on the cross, he not only begged the Father for our forgiveness because we do not know what we are doing but most of all, readily handed our salvation, promising Paradise to anyone who would humbly surrender one’s self to him like Dimas.

See that Jesus was very precise in assuring Dimas and us with Paradise – right at the very moment we are in him, with him on the Cross of pain and suffering, of truth and righteousness – not later when they die nor on Sunday when he rises from the dead but TODAY, right now!

The very moment we open ourselves to accept Jesus Christ our Savior, that is also precisely the very moment he is very present in us and among us. The other moment Luke used the word TODAY to indicate the very moment of here and now was at the birth of Jesus when the angels told the shepherds “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk.2:11).

What a beautiful reminder to us all of God present among us in every here and now, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today for indeed our God is “I AM WHO AM”!

Anyone who is always one in Jesus, one with Jesus is assured of Paradise, in fact already entering Paradise, our end and ultimate destination in life. This leads us to the third important words of Jesus on the Cross according to Luke…

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Coming home to the Father

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

All four evangelists attest in their respective gospel account that Jesus died on the cross at the ninth hour or about 3:00 PM. Most of all, they tell us that Jesus died while praying.

In Luke’s account, Jesus’ final prayer was from Psalm 31:6, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” As we have mentioned in our previous reflections, Luke presents Jesus always at prayer like during the second Sunday of Lent during his transfiguration; only Luke tells us why Jesus went up that high mountain with his three Apostles in order to pray. Inasmuch as the transfiguration was a prayer moment, the crucifixion is the Lord’s prayer moment par excellence. Recall how we truly learn to “pray” when in deep pain and trials like before a surgery, when we no longer know how to pray or even have forgotten what is prayer all about except that we give ourselves entirely to God and to our doctors.

There on the Cross at his final moments, Jesus never ceased from doing good, always praying, always united and one in his Father in heaven. In commending his spirit into the Father’s hands, Jesus shows us exactly what discipleship is all about: everything we have, all we are are God’s. We have nothing to lay claim as ours in this life and that is the challenge to us daily: to live for God in Jesus through our loving service to others.

In this long passion narrative we heard today is the gospel, the very good news of our salvation as proclaimed by Paul in the second reading of how Jesus gave his total self in love to the Father for us all.

May we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, relying only in him like the Suffering Servant for he shall never put us to shame. We cannot experience the joy of his Resurrection unless we imitate Simon Cyrene, Dimas, John and the Blessed Virgin Mary in welcoming and following him in our daily life whether in the comforts of Jerusalem or the sorrows of Calvary for that is where we truly enter Paradise with Jesus, in Jesus. On the Cross. Amen.

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