CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
St. John writes that our Redeemer, before He breathed His last, bowed His head. He bowed His head as a sign that He accepted death with full submission from the hands of His Father, and thus accomplished the most humble obedience: He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross (Phil. ii. 8).
Jesus upon the Cross, with His hands and feet nailed, could move no part of His body except His head. St. Athanasius says that death did not dare to approach to take away life from the Author of life; wherefore it was needed that He Himself, by bowing His head (which alone He then could move), should call death to approach and slay Him. On St. Matthew’s words: Jesus again crying with a loud voice yielded up the ghost (Matt. xxvii. 50), St. Ambrose remarks that the Evangelist used the expression yielded up to show that Jesus did not die of necessity, or through the violence of the executioners, but because He voluntarily chose to die. He chose willingly to die, to save man from the eternal death to which he was condemned.
This was already foretold by the Prophet Osee in the words: I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite (Osee xiii. 14). This is testified by the holy Fathers St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory; and St. Paul, as we have seen, applies the Prophecy literally to Jesus Christ, Who, with His death delivered us from death, that is, from hell.
Draw near, O my soul, to the foot of the Altar of the Cross whereon the Lamb of God is now lying dead, sacrificed for thy salvation. He is dead for the love He bore thee! Speak to thy dead Lord. O Jesus, behold to what Thy love for man has at length reduced Thee! I thank Thee for all men, especially for myself. Into Thy wounded hands I commend my poor soul. May I die for the love of Thy love who didst vouchsafe to die for the love of my love!
How, then, was Jesus Christ the death of death? O death, I will be thy death! Because by His death our Saviour conquered death, and destroyed the death which had resulted from sin. Therefore the Apostle writes, Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin (1 Cor. xv. 54-56). Jesus, the Divine Lamb, by His death destroyed sin, which was the cause of our death; and this was the victory of Jesus, since by dying He banished sin from the world, and consequently delivered it from eternal death, to which the entire human race was subjected.
To this corresponds that other text of the Apostle: That through death he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is, the devil (Heb. ii. 14). Jesus destroyed the devil, that is, the power of the devil, who, through sin, had the power of death; that is, who had power to inflict temporal and eternal death on all the sons of Adam who were corrupted with sin. This was the victory of the Cross, on which Jesus, the Author of life, acquired life for us by His very death. Whence the Church sings of the Cross that by it “Life endured death, and by death brought forth life.”
And all this was the work of the Divine Love, which brought this Priest to sacrifice to the Eternal Father the life of His only-begotten Son for the salvation of men; for which reason the Church also sings, “The Priest, who is love, sacrifices the limbs of His tender body.”
And therefore St. Francis of Sales cries out: “Let us look upon this Divine Saviour stretched upon the Cross, as upon the altar of His love, where He dies for love of us. Ah, why do we not cast ourselves in spirit upon the same, that we may die upon the Cross with Him Who has been willing to die for love of us?”
Yes, O my sweet Redeemer, I embrace Thy Cross; and holding it in my embrace, I would live and die ever lovingly kissing Thy feet, wounded and pierced for me.