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 | By Sr. Janet Schaeffler

The Creed Part 4: What Do We Believe About Jesus Christ Suffering, Dying and Being Buried?

A Nine Part Series on the Creed

By: Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, an Adrian Dominican sister, is Associate Director of the Office for Catechetics/Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Detroit

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried ...

As we pray the Creed, we quickly move from the birth of Jesus to His suffering and death. There is no mention of His life, ministry and His teachings. To us, that may seem very strange. However, when we remember that the Creed was originally written as a defense against the heresies that plagued the early Church, it does make sense. The framers of the Creed felt no need to affirm the life of Jesus because that was not being disputed. What was in dispute were the implications of Jesus’ life and ministry.

One of the things that stands out in this article of the Creed is the reference to Pontius Pilate. He has the distinction of being the only person other than the members of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary to be mentioned in the Creed by name. Why would this happen? Again, the original purpose of the Creed provides the answer. Among the heresies of the early Church were that some  disputed the death of Jesus (and, by implication, his resurrection) as historical reality. The best way to refute this was to link the event to an actual historical figure.

As we look at the original words of the Creed – and their omission of a reflection on the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus – it is important to remember that even though Jesus’ death and resurrection are the key saving mysteries, we are indeed also saved by all the events of Jesus’ life. Our lives, our work, and our ministry are linked most closely with His. Jesus’ life was crucially important. The way a person dies punctuates his or her life. It was the life Jesus lived that led to the cross upon which He died. Jesus’ death is an exclamation point of profound love for us and unwavering obedience to the Father – the way he lived His whole life, taught us and called us to live our lives as daughters and sons of God. This important point of the mysteries of Jesus’ entire life is seen in the fact that the new mysteries of the rosary, the Mysteries of Light, commemorate five events of Jesus’ ministry.

He suffered ... It seems that the element of the Creed that is the most straightforward and clear is the element of life that is the most unclear – suffering. Yet, this may be the most important and consoling part of the Creed for many of us; for who has not confronted suffering? Pope John Paul II writes, “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” (Salvifici Doloris, 19)

died ... The giving of Jesus’ life was total gift. There was no greater way Jesus could show His love for His Father. Jesus was the totally loyal Son. He let the Father’s love fill His life.  Jesus was speaking of Himself – not just His followers – when He said that one must die to live, one must lose in order to win (Mark 8:4-38). His love demanded that He give the greatest gift.

It’s easy to see why we shy away from the cross. It’s not that it’s too painful – it’s that it’s too great a sign of love. We don’t often love that fully and maybe we’re embarrassed when God does. Our faith journey, it seems, is a gradual coming to accept the unbelievable tenderness of God. To be a member of Christ’s body is to die every day, and rise every day.

For as we die, we rise. Salvation is letting Jesus bind us to Himself. He is God and with God; He is human and with us. If the power of His cross is in us, then with Him, we too are lifted to new life (CCC 628).

and was buried. We don’t often think of the burial of Jesus as important, but it is. It is proof positive that He really died.

The interesting fact is that in this instance burial was not normal. Why? Because, sadly, historians confirm that few of the crucified were buried at all. (cf. John 19:26-27, Romans 8:29, Revelation 12:17)

We pray what we believe: Has the cross lost meaning to you? Explore how your life can change by reflecting on it.

Before a crucifix

Meditate on the cross: We pray this prayer often during the Stations of the Cross. The Stations help us to meditate on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Adore the cross: veneration invites us to honor the cross in an act of love. On Good Friday, the Church provides a ritual that also helps do this by remembering the Paschal Mystery. This is the wood of the cross,on which has hung the Savior of the World. Come, let us worship.

Pray a prayer from Mass: Take a few moments this week to reflect on the words of one of the memorial acclamations we pray during the Eucharistic Prayer: Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.

Read Galatians 2:19-21: Paul says that he has been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in him. Think of the sorrows that you have had in your life. Pray that these unite you with Christ crucified. Realize that He lives in you.

Begin your day by slowly making the sign of the cross: Do this with a large gesture on your body as a reminder that all that you do today is done under the care of God. When putting your children to bed at night, sign them with the cross while saying: Remember God loves you and so do I.

6 ways to live the story of the cross:

Jesus calls His followers to pick up the cross and follow Him. The Son of God picked up the cross of human suffering. Jesus accepted His cross and the cruelty and pain inflicted on Him, without resisting. For Paul, raw, ugly suffering was the way our salvation was accomplished.

1 Reflect on the difference between accepting and taking up the cross. What crosses have you accepted? What crosses might you take up for the sake of others?

2 Volunteer to take the Eucharist to those who are suffering in the hospital or to those confined to their homes. Make them aware that they are active members of the Body of Christ through their suffering.

3 Spend some time with people who are suffering. In addition to hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters, you may find them in courtrooms, counseling centers, dining rooms, classrooms, finance meetings, cocktail parties, research labs, and your own home.

4 Be alert to how your attitude toward suffering contributes to your daily responses.

5 How can you use various forms of communication and technology to voice your support or opposition to important issues of justice and human rights?

6 Since your mind and heart can go places your feet and hands cannot, in what ways do you think globally when you pray?

Reflection: 10 Drive Time Reflections

Reflect on these questions while driving to and from work. Then share them with your spouse, or friends, or in parish groupings:

1 What would you say to someone who said that they could not understand why Jesus had to suffer and die before He rose?

2 How does an awareness of the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ death and resurrection) help you cope with disappointment, sickness, or loss? How could it, or has it helped you comfort others?

3 What have I learned from my personal sorrows and sufferings?

4 What opportunities have I had to share in another’s suffering? What have I learned from their personal sorrows and sufferings?

5 In what situations are we tempted to abandon those who suffer?

6 When bad things happen to good people, how do I react to those who blame God?

7 The mystery of the cross is that “one must die to live, one must lose in order to win.” Do you see that mystery present in your life? Have you or have others you know ever had to lose in order to win, to die in small ways in order to live?

8 Those actions of Jesus which eventually led to His crucifixion and death were loving, self-giving, teaching of the Father’s love. Think of a time when you were persecuted for living out your convictions. What was the result?

9 Jesus taught not only through His words, but through His actions. He taught mercy and compassion. Recall a time when you expressed mercy or compassion for another. What was painful, joyful, frightening or powerful in your experience? What did you give up and what did you gain?

10 Read the Passion narratives from each of the four Gospels one scene at a time. What differences do you note? What impressions of Jesus emerge?

Radical Teachings of Jesus

One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was because of the way He lived and how He taught:

God is a loving Father: Read Luke 11:1-13

God’s love is for everyone: Read Mt 22:1-14, 37-39  and Luke 10:29-37

The Reign of God is here: Read Mark 4:1-20, 26-32

God is merciful: Read Luke 15:11-32

Repent, believe the good news, and imitate Jesus’ life of service: Read Luke 18:9-14 and Matthew 25:31-46

Accept Jesus – accept the cross: Read Luke 12:13-21; 113:22-30; 16:19-31

The Lord is present in His Church by the Holy Spirit: Read John 14:16-18, 25-26; 16:7-15; 21:15-19