It is very strange and, at the same time, surprisingly liberating. Since college days, I have observed personal “radio silence” on Good Friday as a way to remove myself from the distractions of the world and focus on what this day is about: the passion and death the Lord Jesus Christ. Back then that meant no radio or television. As technology has progressed over the years, this silence began to include email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media. This year I took another step: I silenced all the alerts that my iPhone constantly sends my way.
For twenty-four hours I had no idea what was going in the world. Accustomed to the non-stop bombardment of modern society’s 24/7 news cycle, I found myself restless at first and very disconcerted. Have I become so numb to the cacophony of political bickering, crime stories, terrorist assaults and celebrity gossip that I actually crave that relentless input? I shook my head and laughed lightly as I fought off the impulse to check my phone or my computer for Facebook posts or CNN alerts. Alone in my house for most of the day, I had nothing better to do than pray.
I turned to the Liturgy of the Hours and decided to pray the Office of Readings, which aren’t exactly my favorite part. I do have a breviary app but forsook that in favor of the old-school bound volume of the Lent-Easter edition of the Hours that has been gathering dust in my library. The heavy red-covered book felt good in my hands as I reflected on today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.
Scripture scholars long ago agreed that this particular letter from the New Testament was not written by Saint Paul. The literary style and approach to the subject matter are markedly different from the Pauline letters. There is a unique wisdom in this sacred author’s point of view on the question of Jesus the Christ. Today’s selection from chapter 9 focuses, appropriately enough, on soteriology — theological jargon for the understanding of redemption, our need to be “saved.”
When Christ came as high priest of the good things which have come to be, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation. He entered, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood and achieved eternal redemption.
Our understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is predicated on a familiarity with the notion of sacrifice among the cultures from which the Hebrew people emerged. The burned sacrifice of animals and the first fruits of a bountiful harvest on an altar was revered as a way to placate the gods in the hope of divine favor. As an example, Moses would sprinkle the people with the blood of goats and calves and say, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has enjoined upon you.” Saint John Chrysostom, in the second reading from today’s Office of Readings, focuses on this point.
If we were to ask him [Moses] what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men [sic] endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood.
We moderns are far removed from the idea of “sacrificing” something to please our gods. Or are we? What are we willing to give up in order to achieve our personal goals? Ask any athlete who undergoes months of grueling personal and team training in order to achieve a championship. Ask anyone who tries a new strict regimen of diet and exercise in order to lose weight. Ask any student who may devote four to eight years in college and graduate school to obtain a degree. These are all admirable earthly goals that are worth the sacrifice but what do they amount to when our time on Earth is done? Beyond death, Jesus promises eternal life.
Eternal life was the blessing of paradise in the creation story from Genesis, but sin obscured that divine blessing. Humanity chose the distraction of personal pleasure and sin was the easiest gateway. Or so we thought. After centuries of this delusion, God sent his Son to lead us back toward the blessing of eternal life. Jesus proved this point with his own blood.
I can’t begin to understand why Jesus had to die the horrific bloody death of Roman crucifixion. I cannot comprehend how that death somehow patched things up between humanity and God. My faith tells me that Jesus was obedient to the will of his Father and because of that obedience the gateway to eternal life was re-opened.
Jesus’ sacrifice challenges me to ask myself: “What am I willing to give up in order to achieve union with God?” It’s a question I will ponder as I pray tonight the beautiful and impressive liturgy of the Easter Vigil. And yes, I must “unplug” from the distractions of social media more often!