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The story is so familiar, most of us could retell it almost verbatim. And, with few exceptions, we do the same things to commemorate it every year. But perhaps because none of us is exactly the same person in exactly the same place when Holy Week rolls around, it is always possible to draw something new from the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That happened for me in a pretty big way this year.
Regardless of faith tradition, every Christian is taught that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. As St. Paul explained in his letter to the Romans, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). In other words, the horrors of crucifixion and all the suffering Jesus endured were the consequence of my sin and yours. In a very real way, each one of us can say, "I killed Christ."
That is why it's not at all a stretch for any of us to shout "Crucify him! Crucify him!" as we read the Gospel of the Passion on Palm Sunday. It is easy for us to cry out for blood because our sins do exactly that: they call for the blood of a sacrifice that is powerful enough to reconcile us to God. There is, of course, only one sacrifice sufficient for that: the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is both the Victim and the Eternal High Priest. Because he is sinless, he can offer his own blood for the salvation of sinners.
But the Paschal Mystery didn't begin with the Last Supper, or even with Incarnation of Christ. Preparations for the sacrificial death of Jesus began at the very moment sin entered the world. When humanity fell, mercy was God's immediate response.
I admit that I'm pretty much a Good Friday girl, and always have been. I love the drama and conflict of the events as they unfold, the characters' choices and dilemmas, and yes, I do get caught up in the political intrigue and graphic violence. But when I look at the crucified Jesus, I tend to focus on most is my own guilt and sin.
This year, though, something I noticed about the Easter Vigil readings made me realize that God doesn't share my perspective. The seven Old Testament selections that richly chronicle salvation history do not include the Fall of Adam and Eve. They skip from creation right over to Abraham. It is as if the forbidden fruit, the serpent, and the sin never happened. The only mention of the Fall in the vigil liturgy occurs in the Exultet where it is proclaimed to be the "truly necessary sin of Adam," a "happy fault" because it "earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!"
The contrast is stark. While I see the cross through the lens of sin, God sees sin through the lens of the cross. And isn't that what the cross of Christ accomplishes? Isn't that what salvation is all about? Jesus's total gift of self, his complete obedience to the will of the Father doesn't end with the restoration what our first parents lost. The cross is not merely sufficient, but superabundant grace. Jesus did not die to re-open the gates of Eden or put out the flashing sword that kept us from the Tree of Life. He suffered and died and rose again to make every human heart the garden where he dwells -- not only in fellowship at the cool of the day, but in communion every day and for eternity. That is what God's mercy does for us. That is what it means to be forgiven.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.