The Paschal Mystery


There was an older man who had as his good personal friend a physician.  The man happened to meet the doctor on the street one day and they stopped to talk.   “How are you doing?” asked the doctor.  “OK, the man replied, but I’m a little worried about my wife.  I’m afraid she’s losing her hearing”.   “Why do you say that?” the doctor asked.  “Well, I talk to her, but she never seems to hear me,” the man replied.

The doctor told his friend that there was one sure way to find out if his wife’s hearing problem was severe.  “When she’s not looking at you, speak to her from different distances until she hears you, and then you’ll know how serious the problem is,” he advised.

So the old man went home, walked in the door and saw his wife standing in the kitchen with her back to him, working at the stove.  “What’s for dinner?” he called.  No reply from his wife.   He moved across the hallway and stood in the kitchen doorway.  “What’s for dinner?” he said.  Still no answer.  Finally, he walked up right behind her and said in a loud voice, “What’s for dinner?”   His wife turned around and said slowly:  for the third time, chicken!

You know, sometimes we worry that when we pray to God, He isn’t hearing us.  Maybe we should really make sure that we’re hearing Him.   I can assure you that God is with us day and night, on land, sea and air anywhere in the world…and His ears are in perfect working order!

The theme is “The Paschal Mystery”, which is the Church’s name for the fundamental basis of Christianity: it refers to the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—and what that means to each one of us 2000 years later.

Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins, we—each one of us—have access to unlimited forgiveness and the promise of eternal life in Heaven.  Can you imagine anything more wonderful?   Jesus took on to himself all the sins of the world—the sins from the beginning of time until today, and beyond.

This is love beyond all understanding.   Love of God for the world.  Love of God for his only begotten son.  Love of Jesus, the son, for each one of us.  (John 3:16 at football games):  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die, but have eternal life.” 

For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events in the history of the world, because they give us an unlimited amount of hope, even when things might appear darkest.

Our God is a forgiving God.  Imagine if it were otherwise…if he remembered each and every one of our sins and held a grudge.  What if he recorded our sins using a pencil with no eraser?  Too terrible to imagine!  But fortunately, just the opposite is true.  Jesus is the eraser that wipes away our sins.

There is a wonderful little book called “Living Faith”.  A little while ago Sr. Kathryn James Hermes wrote this:  “This is what Jesus is all about.  God refused to give up on us.  God handed over the dearest possession a father could have, an only Son, so that we would be brought up into God’s embrace, lifted to a place of rest, of belonging, of mercy.  God sent his son to rescue us because God can do nothing less than remain faithful to that covenant of love forever.

Jesus walked his talk.   In fact, he probably made the toughest walk ever made, for our sakes…carrying a heavy cross all the way.  He died for us in a most terrible way, as we’ll recall in a moment.  But then, three days later came the miracle of his resurrection, his return to life.  And that is what the “paschal mystery” is all about.

It’s very important to remember that Jesus was both God and man.  As a man, he suffered every bit as much as any of us would, from the physical and mental torture he endured.  He was not immune to pain or fear.  As I now describe the crucifixion of Jesus, remember that, and reflect on how much he must love us to have undergone so much for our sakes.



The feeling of sin would have been new to Jesus, because he himself had never sinned.  And so, when in the Garden of Gethsemane, the sins of the whole world began to weigh down on Jesus, he must have felt fear and depression and other terrible emotions we can only imagine.  The Apostle St. Luke, a physician, who was present in the garden, said that Jesus actually sweated blood in his agony.

Jesus could have called down a million angels to protect him, had he wished…lightning bolts, whatever…but he was thinking of the will of his Father…and the well-being of us…over his own needs.



Jesus was brought before the authorities, where he was struck in the face for remaining silent when questioned.  Imagine the emotional trauma of being abused for no reason.  The palace guards blindfolded him, mocked and taunted him, spat on him and struck him time and time again.

In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated and exhausted from a sleepless night, was taken to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.



During the scourging, Jesus was stripped of his clothing and his hands were tied to a post above his head.  A Roman legionnaire stepped forward with a whip, consisting of several heavy leather straps with two small balls of lead attached to each strap.  The heavy whip was brought down will full, powerful force again and again.  At first the heavy straps cut through the skin only.  Then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper, causing arterial bleeding.



The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement.    A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long, extremely sharp thorns, was pressed into his scalp, causing tremendous pain and bleeding.   This is what we call the crown of thorns.



The heavy beam of a cross was then tied across his shoulders and the procession of the Condemned Christ, along with two thieves who would also be crucified, began its slow journey.  The rough wood of the beam gouged into His skin and muscles of his shoulders; the stones in the road cut his bare feet.



At the place of execution, the beam was placed on the ground and Jesus was quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood.  A Roman soldier drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through Jesus’ wrist and into the wood.  Quickly he moved to the other side and repeated the action.

The beam was then lifted in place at the top of the posts and a mocking sign which read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was nailed in place.  His left foot was pressed backwards against the right foot, and with both feet extended, a single, huge nail was driven through the arches of both feet.

As his arms tired, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep, throbbing pain.  With the cramps came the inability to push himself upward.  Hanging only by his arms, air could be drawn into his lungs, but could barely be exhaled.  Jesus fought to raise himself in order to get even one short breath.  Finally carbon dioxide built up in the lungs and the cramps partially subsided.  For a brief time he was able to once again able to push himself upward and breathe.

And then the Loving Jesus used this brief opportunity to assure one of the thieves being crucified with him that they would soon be together in Paradise.

Soon after, dehydrated, tasting blood, Jesus said: “I thirst”.  He could feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues.  With one last surge of strength, he once again pressed his torn feet against the nail, straightened his legs, took a deep breath and uttered:   “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.   And with that…Jesus died.

Something very remarkable:  even as he was near death, Jesus asked God to forgive those who were killing him, when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.   What incredible love that extends 2000 years from that cross to those of us alive 2000 year later.

The great news of the Paschal Mystery, of Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection to new life, is that death has no power over Jesus and therefore no power over us, his followers.

Jesus died and rose from the grave exactly as the scriptures had foretold hundreds of years before.  Jesus himself predicted his death and resurrection….then it happened…and then he said that we can have eternal life too.   Has there every been such a gift?

Jesus said:  “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it produces much fruit.   Thus it is that as followers of Jesus, we must die to sin and be reborn to eternal life.   And the great sacrifice of Jesus makes it possible to die to sin and begin anew.

I have personally experienced the power of confession, of reconciliation, of starting fresh through the grace of God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are all kinds of addictions, and for many years mine were things like power, ego and revenge.

  • When your god is power…your god isn’t much use in time of sickness.
  • When your god is ego…your god isn’t your friend when others fail you.
  • When your god is revenge, your god can never be big enough.
  • When you make an addiction of any kind (including work or money) your god…you are only bound for disappointment.

God gave us a free will, and we can choose to follow him and grow into the loving, caring, peaceful person God wants us to be—or we can choose to turn our backs on Him.   But remember that if you always do what you did, you’ll always get what you got.   The choice is ours.  The choice is yours.

Let me end with the beautiful Psalm 32:

“Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty.  When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable and I groaned all day long.  Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.  My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them.  I said to myself, I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.  And you forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.