Our reflection today resumes from where we left off yesterday – Jesus is the Priest and the Sacrifice, revealing the truth that “our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29) Yesterday we reflected upon Jesus as the Priest and Sacrifice in the Eucharist and in the Priest. Today we go to the source of that truth, the cross.
In the Old Testament, a sacrificial offering was made in worship to God. Very often, the sacrifices were consumed by fire coming forth from God’s own hand. (Judges 6:21, Leviticus 9:24, 1 Kings 18:38) Today, Jesus, the Perfect Victim makes perfect atonement for the sins of the world, and is totally consumed by the fire of God’s love on our behalf. Indeed, “our God is a consuming fire.” The presence of this ‘consuming fire’ is the heart of Jesus who is the Son of God.
In his agony in the garden, Jesus asks the Father that this cup might pass (Matthew 26:39). Fr. Cantalamessa interprets this image of the cup, a familiar symbol in biblical language, as God’s wrath. St. Paul says that Jesus became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) – in other words, he took upon himself not only the sins of the world but the God’s fury which is associated with sin. Jesus becomes the victim for our sins; the One who accepts our punishment.
Our sin is serious business, which is not passed over lightly. During their journey in the desert, after the many sins of the people, God tells Moses: “I have seen now how stiff-necked this people is, the LORD said to me. Let me be, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under the heavens.” (Deuteronomy 9: 13-14) Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people and obtains God’s mercy. (Exodus 32:11-14)
Like Moses, Jesus’ agony, passion and death is his plea for us, that we be spared.
As Christ cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:2) We cry: “My God, my God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13, Psalm 51)
Today reveals the ugliness of our sins and the reality of its consequences. As the Prophet Isaiah said in the first reading, “so marred was his look beyond human semblance. … Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, … he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; … by his stripes we were healed.” (Isaiah 52:13- 53:12)
Today, we face the reality and depths of our own sins, and arrive at the knowledge of God’s love that is perfect, eternal, a ‘consuming fire’ that eradicates our sins in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We come to the knowledge of God’s personal love, that raises us up from the ashes of the mess we have made of our lives and our world, to once again be made whole and capable of inheriting the promises of heaven.
Dear Jesus, as your Mother remained at the foot of the cross, faithful to the end, grant to us through her intercession the same fidelity and love. She knew the fire of your love, with a love nearly as fierce. Open our eyes as we venerate your holy cross today to appreciate that it was this fire of your love that split open your side as you hung upon the cross. (St. Catherine of Siena, Prayer 19) We give you thanks, O Lord, for making this day good, by the gift of your life, and for the gift of our salvation.