He Died for Me

From Br. Joseph —

We have all seen pictures of the crucifixion. There is one particular picture, a bit different from most, which I want to describe. The viewpoint of the picture is from above the Cross, a little higher than His right hand and a little behind, looking downward over Jesus on the Cross, and this vast crowd of people standing around the hill staring up at Him. The angle prevents you from seeing the ground directly in front of the Cross where I presume Mary, John, and others were standing. Jesus on the Cross was the center with emphasis expanding into the crowd of people who seem to be standing in the shadow of the Cross. But there was no shadow. It was more of an illumination.

The people in the crowd represented all parts of the world from all of history. There was a caveman kneeling. There were Asians, Africans, Native Americans, Aborigines, Eskimos, and Europeans. There were people dressed in jeans and t-shirts, Victorian dress, medieval peasants, ancient Roman togas, tribal costumes, and so on. Off to one side was a nun dressed in her black habit standing next to a young woman in cutoffs and halter top giving the impression of a prostitute. Which woman was more attuned to her sexuality? In the middle to the right stood an astronaut in a space suit. The reflection in his visor was the Christmas Star over the small village of Bethlehem. There was a sense of peace in all of their expressions as they gazed at His death on the Cross, a gift meant for all people for all time.

As I meditated on this image and its meanings, my imagination took control and I stepped into the image. (My hope is that you will be able to step with me into this image too.)

There I was, in the middle of that picture, surrounded by other people looking up at Jesus on the Cross. I glanced down and noticed the dust of the desert on my shoes. I felt the pebbles and dirt shift ever so slightly as I shifted my weight to the other foot. The contrast of what I had expected and what the sky looked like shocked me. Instead of cold and gray and darkness, I saw a sky of soft powdery blue with a hint of white puffy clouds low on the horizon. The mid-afternoon sun was warm on my face. All was silent except for the gentle rustle of clothes in the cool breeze.

I looked back up to focus on Jesus on the Cross. He was dead. The drama of the Passion that lead up to this moment was complete. I knew what was going to happen later in the afternoon, and especially on Sunday morning. I understood the source of the peace I saw in the faces of the people standing next to me. I felt the peace too, but not completely. I had a haunting deep sense of guilt weighing heavy on my heart. My sin was responsible for this man being on the Cross. He chose to die because of me.

One by one, slowly at first, then more quickly, the people in the crowd started to disappear. In a few moments, I knew I would be the only one remaining. It would soon be time to face this guilt inside my heart. I would have to face it alone with Him. Instead of becoming anxious, I felt a certain measure of peace. I wondered if I should be afraid. How many times did He say not to be? As the others in the crowd disappeared, I expected the weight of my guilt to grow within me. There is anonymity in a crowd, a sharing of responsibility that falsely disseminates the guilt. No, the weight of my guilt did not change. I knew it was mine. There was no fooling myself. No fooling Him.

Then the last person disappeared. There I was, alone. Alone before the Cross with Jesus dead on it. I continued to look up at Him. The sun was still warm on my face. The gentle breeze continued to toss my hair playfully across my forehead. Should I prostrate myself on the ground before Him? I stood still. The silence of infinity enveloped me.

I bowed my head slightly as if gazing into my heart, searching for the heavy brick of guilt hidden in a corner. There it was. I looked back up at Jesus and said in my mind, “I’m sorry. So sorry.” That is all I could say. No excuses. No tears. “I am sorry for my sin. Please forgive me.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered reading something about Jesus asking St. Jerome in a vision why he had not given Him everything. Jerome replied, “Lord, I have devoted my life to your service. I have given you all my works, all my love, all my praise, everything.” Jesus replied, “No, you have not given me your sins.”

In an inward gesture of reaching my hands upward, I said in my mind, “Lord, take my heart. Take all of it. All my love, all my joys, all my sorrow, all my sins, all my guilt. It is all yours.”

As I dropped my head again, I softly whispered, “I am Yours.”

A moment later, I looked up at the Cross again, gazing deeply into His face. The crown of thorns still pierced His lifeless flesh. The trickles and streams of blood were dried and crusted in His hair and across His face. The cuts were still open and the bruises were blue and black and swollen.

On one side of the threshold lies pain, sorrow, loss, guilt, and death. By letting go—surrendering—one steps into the threshold of transformation, through the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, and emerges into healing, joy, victory, freedom, and life.

I looked one more time up at His face on the Cross. It seemed almost like He was smiling. The heavy brick of guilt was gone from my heart. He had died for me, and I was glad to receive His gift, a gratitude that only comes from grace.

The Way stood in front of me now.

“I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)