“How then can we live?” | Christ’s Death and Our New Life
“Our transgressions and our sins are upon us; they weigh us down; and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10).
These words of the prophet powerfully express how sin affects us—creating a heaviness in the soul, a feeling of dejection, a sense of deadness in mind and heart. Sin has played a major role in making the human race what it is and us who we are. Sin is not the final word about us, not what defines us, not the most formative influence. But it leaves its mark.
We have a relationship with sin, strange to say. It promises good things to us, promises to help us forget our pain and anxiety. It is always there, ‘crouching at the door,’ beckoning to us as the solution. But sin gives no rest—or rather, it gives a moment’s rest, only to increase and magnify our restlessness: we are more alienated from God, self, and our brethren. All of the effects of sin in our lives, especially those we might grapple with daily, make us feel exactly what Ezekiel describes: weighed down, burdened, so much so that we even ask the questions: How can we live? How can we rise up?
We are loved by God, and we will let the Holy Spirit act in us and purify us, so that we can embrace the Son of God on the cross, and rise with him, because the joy of the resurrection is rooted in the cross. (Christ is Passing By, no. 66)
Embracing Jesus on the cross means not only believing in what Jesus is doing there, but hugging it tight, clinging to Him as our life and love. It is even the deep conviction that He welcomes our embrace eagerly, however unfaithful and irresponsible we have been. So long as we end up there, where Jesus is, with both tears and hope, we will find the same strength that so many cripples and paralytics received to rise and walk, the same power that raised Lazarus from death. His love underwrites our confidence, answering Ezekiel’s seemingly unanswerable cry, “How then can we live?”
While it is true that we have offended God, it is truer that He has loved us.
God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. (Rm 5:8-11)
On Good Friday, Jesus Christ takes our guilt and bears our wounds in an all-out effort at universal reconciliation. He is trying to bring us to a point where the overwhelming love of His passion will soften our hard hearts, where His patience and tenderness in taking us back repeatedly when we have sinned will leave us without the excuses of discouragement or despair. Sin’s only answer to itself is hopelessness. Jesus always offers us a way out, a way up. We can rise with Him.
If losing Jesus through sin has ever seemed small to us, Good Friday’s impact should make us reflect on what good sin has ever done for us. In seeking freedom in it, we have only forged new links in the chains that bind us. In looking for pleasure, we have found only disappointment and regret. In asserting ourselves we have not found our true identity, but a distortion, a caricature of who God has made us to be.
St Josemaria, in a rosary meditation on the Finding in the Temple, speaks in terms appropriate for Good Friday. Losing Jesus, especially through our own fault, is absolutely the worst thing in the world:
Mary is crying. In vain you and I run from group to group, from caravan to caravan. No one has seen him. Joseph, after fruitless attempts to keep from crying, cries too…. And you…. And I. Being a common little fellow, I cry my eyes out and wail to heaven and earth…, to make up for the times when I lost him through my own fault and did not cry.
Precisely because losing the Lord is the worst possible thing, we can feel so weighed down by our failure to be faithful to Him, to love Him as we ought. We can feel as though we are the worst possible people on the planet. This is why Jesus loves us so excessively in His passion: He not only makes up for our lack, He overwhelms us with His abundance. He doesn’t so much deny our desperate feelings as flood us with an unending torrent of mercy, leaving us exonerated where we expected condemnation.
If the liturgy of Good Friday is a little overwhelming—with its Scriptures, prayers and intercessions, chants, the reading of St John’s Passion from beginning to end—yet we shouldn’t lose sight of its uncomplicated message: His death, our life; His wounds, our healing; His love, our redemption; His coming resurrection, the justification for taking the first steps in our new life.