Fourth Sunday of Lent
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
March 18, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Lent
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of May be lifted up.” John 3:14
As Lent progresses, the climax of our journey comes more and more into sharp focus—the Paschal Mystery. The death of our Lord on the cross, without which no Resurrection can take place, comes inevitably into our view.
Every Friday I make the Way of the Cross. I would hope that you do also. As I make my way from station to station, I reflect on the journey Jesus made to Calvary. At the twelfth station, Jesus dies on the cross. I pause and reflect on the meaning of that event. He utters His last words. In the Gospel of St. John those are, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
When I was a child, we went to the Way of the Cross as a family. The Pastor who led the stations had a booming voice, but when he came to the twelfth station, he would cry out those final words in a voice that was even more thunderous than usual. To add to the drama of this moment, he would say the words in Latin: “Consummatum est.” To a child, it made quite an impression.
It were as though he were announced the end of the world. Certainly this moment was unprecedented. Here, the Word of God made flesh was being sacrificed for the sins of humanity. Here, at this moment, an innocent victim, an “unblemished lamb,” was led to the slaughter and uttered his last words: “It is finished.” What was finished? He was, yet we knew that was not the end. So, what was completed? His work, His deeds, His complete submission to the Father’s will. Yet, the antecedent of “it” must encompass all of this and more. In fact, Jesus had been “lifted up.”
The cross had become a victory. How was this possible? God was turning the table on the devil’s last weapon of fear. He could not do this unless His Son died. There could be no Resurrection without death. That the death was the most humiliating that the world at that time knew makes the death on the cross even more absorbing. This is not just anyone dying on the cross, some criminal whose death would have been expected. No, this was a truly “innocent victim.” There are not many of those. As a matter of fact, for someone who had lived over thirty years, as Jesus had, there would be none. If He could die, innocent as he was, anything could happen, and it did.
It is to this ultimate victory—this Resurrection not without crucifixion—that Jesus refers in the Gospel today. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The episode to which Jesus refers in found in the Book of Numbers 21. At the instructions God gives him, Moses mounts the image of a bronze serpent on a pole so that the people who have been bitten might look at it and have their lives spared. In referencing this moment, Jesus is foretelling what will happen to Him. He will be “lifted up” on the cross. At this moment, “it” will be “finished”—“consummatum est.” There will be no further need for any other act of redemption. The perfect sacrifice will have been made. “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.” They will have lifted him up, and all will be accomplished. They will look not upon a bronze serpent but upon the Son of God crucified.
I would end with these words of St. Paul. “[W]e proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).