Many of you have commented upon the fact that Lent and Easter are so early this year. Well, that gives this day more than its usual significance. Good Friday this year is doubly significant, for the date of this Good Friday is March 25. It is nine months to the day before Christmas. Now, you might think that this is the reason why March 25 was set aside long ago in the Church as the Feast of the Annunciation, the day to remember the angel Gabriel’s visit to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would bear a son. Well, that it’s nine months before Christmas is not the reason. The days of Christ’s death and resurrection, and not the day of His birth, were the first days that Christians began commemorating. From early on it was believed that Jesus was crucified on March 25. Ancient people also considered the day on which a person died to be the same as the day he was conceived. They were linked together. This is why March 25 came to be considered also as the day Jesus was conceived – and why for us this year, Christ’s conception in the womb and His death on the cross are joined together.
This is as it should be. Jesus tells us that both were part of God’s plan for our salvation. As He is questioned by Pontius Pilate during His trial He says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) His life’s purpose was laid out for Him from the time of His conception. From the womb He lived out that purpose, a purpose that was completed, and not prevented, by His crucifixion.
We know about plans directing a person’s life, don’t we? When I meet with couples before I marry them I ask them about their plans when it comes to children, and they always have some plan in mind (how many kids they’ll have, and when they’ll have them, etc.). And, when a child is born, the parents are already seeing the beginning of a plan for their child’s life. “He has your eyes… she has your nose…” Such characteristics are signs of a life that has already begun to be marked out. As personality traits appear the shape and plan of one’s life is seen more and more. In certain ways it was there from the beginning!
Even so, the things seen in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion marked and shaped His life from the beginning. He was despised and rejected by men already in His conception. Mary was not believed and was looked upon as guilty of adultery even by her husband. Joseph would have divorced her if not for God’s intervention. Suspicions regarding his conception and birth remained, however, and were voiced by His opponents 30 years later during His ministry. During one argument they say to Him in words dripping with sarcasm, “We know who our father is!” Then, shortly after He was born, His life was threatened by the murderous King Herod. Only by fleeing to Egypt were He and His parents spared. The rejection of men was also felt by Jesus very personally, as His own brothers did not believe in Him and spoke sarcastically to Him during His ministry. Only the undeniable miracle of His resurrection changed their hearts. Isaiah says, “Surely He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Jesus did this throughout His life, and not only in His death.
Indeed, our sins and iniquities pierced Him throughout His life because they are piercing daggers that we both feel and wield throughout our lives. Consider the terrible events of Good Friday. “We have no king but Caesar!” Israel’s priests shouted to Pilate during Jesus’ trial. They were lying when they said this, for they didn’t accept Caesar as their king any more than they accepted Jesus as their king. They only said this in order to get what they wanted from Pilate: Jesus’ death. Yes, lies to get what we want are heard from our lips throughout our lives. Our words are also deceitfully twisted and used against us throughout our lives. The desire for self above all is what prompts this, and this desire is in the hearts of all people from conception.
Consider how Jesus was dressed in a purple robe and mocked by the soldiers during His trial. “He was despised, and we esteemed him not,” says Isaiah. Our own esteem for others is so often based on their appearance or societal standing. “We esteemed him not,” says Isaiah, lumping us all together and putting the blame for Jesus’ death on each one of us. Wrongly despising and belittling others is our nature. We have to teach our children to not do this terrible thing which comes so naturally.
Name the sin you see in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. You’ve felt its pain. Look honestly inside yourself and you’ll see it lying there, ready to burst forth. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities... All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Christ’s unjust death is not the Jews fault, or Pilate’s fault. The responsibility lies at the feet of each of us.
This is why He came to us. Jesus was conceived and born for this. “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world,” He declares. Psalm 130 promises: “With the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” The fullness of His redemption reaches into the womb, to conception, for from the womb the holy Son of God began bearing the sins which afflict us from our conception. He completed that redemption, the bearing of God’s judgment for your sins, when He died for them on the cross. “It is finished!” Jesus cried out. You have been redeemed from the womb to the tomb, from your conception to your death. “By His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Our sins are forgiven! In Jesus we have a new beginning and a new life!
This is the truth that Jesus declares, and this is the truth that He confirms and seals with His death. From your conception, you are answerable to God, and from your conception you are redeemed by God! “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Look upon your Lord on the cross for you, and listen to His voice. You will know the truth that your life is not your own:
your own to plan out, worry about, and work out;
your own to make amends for and improve and perfect;
your own to make meaningful and lasting beyond death.
Because of Jesus your life has been in God’s hands from the womb, and will be to the tomb – and beyond! He was conceived and born for our salvation; He lived and served for our salvation; and He died, and then rose from the dead, for our salvation! He fills our lives with purpose and meaning! And so, as St. Paul says in Colossians 3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
In the blessed name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior! Amen.