venerdì 30 marzo 2018

«Videbunt in quem transfixerunt»

Christians, over the centuries, have meditated on the passion of Christ. Usually, their attention has been focused on the different moments before his death. Suffice it to think of the Way of the Cross or of the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It would seem that everything ended with Jesus’ death, and everything resumed with his resurrection, as if between death and resurrection there was nothing. We know, instead, from the Creed that between the death and the resurrection of Jesus there are other two mysteries—his burial and his descent into hell. Just to say that between death and resurrection there is no vacuum. Burial and descent into hell are the mysteries on which Christians are invited to meditate on Holy Saturday.

Now we would like to linger over what happened immediately after Jesus’ death, while he was still on the cross. Only the evangelist John, who was present there, reports this episode. We have heard it at the end of the passion narrative. Since the following day was the sabbath and that year it coincided with the Passover, the Jews asked Pilate to remove the bodies of the condemned from their crosses. To do this, it was necessary that the condemned should be dead; and, to let them die, they used to break their legs, so that they might die by asphyxiation. But when they came to Jesus, they found him already dead. So, instead of breaking his legs, one of the soldiers pierced his side with his lance, and “immediately blood and water flowed out.” It is a phenomenon that can be easily explained naturally: the soldier hit the heart of Jesus; that is why blood flowed out along with serum. Some scholars maintain that this would be a proof that Jesus died of a heart attack. But it is not for medical reasons that John reports this episode. You have heard how much he emphasizes his own testimony, “An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.” So, we are in front of a mystery of faith, not a medical phenomenon.

What is this mystery? John sees in this incident the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The first quotation is taken from the book of Exodus, “Not a bone of it will be broken.” It refers to the Paschal lamb. So, it means that Jesus is the new—the true—Paschal lamb, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The second quotation is taken from the prophet Zechariah, “They will look upon him whom they have pierced” (Videbunt in quem transfixerunt). So even the piercing of Jesus had already been predicted by the prophets. But Zechariah had also predicted that people would have looked upon him. It is precisely what Christians have always done, starting with the apostle John. 

And looking upon lifeless Jesus still hanging on the cross, focusing on the wound of his side gushing forth blood and water, they have found there the fountain of their salvation. They have recognized in that blood the price of their ransom and in the water the life-giving Spirit. Jesus, one day, had foretold that “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” Christians have seen in that water and in that blood the symbols of the sacraments—Baptism and Eucharist. And keeping on contemplating that mystery, they have realized that from the side of Christ asleep on the cross the Church originated. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Bride of Christ was born from the pierced heart of her Bridegroom hanging dead on the cross. More recently, thanks to the revelations of Saint Faustina, we have discovered in the pierced side of Christ the fountain of mercy.

Let us continue to fix our eyes upon Jesus hanging dead on the cross. Though lifeless, he is the source of life. Let us approach him to find mercy, salvation and life.