The generosity and self-sacrifice of so many people are simply heroic: the mother who pours herself out in caring for a sick child; the father who slaves away at difficult work to put food on the table; the nurses and doctors who have put themselves last to care for Covid patients. It can be so easy to talk about love, but these examples and so many more like them show us what love really is and put much of our talk to shame. Love means laying down your life for others.
Jesus talks of laying down his life for us no less than five times in today’s short Gospel. We also know that he did it. But he did not just lay it down for us: he laid it down in us. His last breath did not evaporate into thin air because the breath of his death is the Holy Spirit whom he breathed into those who believed in him. The breath of his death is the supreme act of love for us, to remove our sin and death. That love is the person of the Holy Spirit.
So, in laying down his life for us, he laid down the Spirit of life in us. That is what baptism is. It is to inhale the Spirit of God exhaled from the mouth of Christ in death. It is the same in every sacrament. They all take their power from the death of Jesus and breathe that power into our souls and bodies. Think of matrimony. A man and a woman lay down their lives for one another in love. Christ breathes his Spirit into that love to enrich, confirm and transform it. Think of priesthood. A man lays down his life to allow Christ to act in him through Word and Sacrament. Christ breathes the Spirit into him to make that possible. Christian vocation is not a concept: it is breathing in the life of God and laying down our lives for others.
Jesus goes further. He has power not only to lay down his life, but also to take it up again. That means, then, that he not only lays down his life in us, he raises it up again in us. And we can see and feel that in the life which the sacraments empower us to live. We will see and experience it completely only when we are raised up on the last day. There is someone we can look to in whom the laying down and raising up of Christ’s life has already taken place. Jesus died for our sins, and so we see in the Immaculate Conception of Mary that Christ laid down his life both for her and in her given that she was conceived free from sin. But in her Assumption we see how Christ raised up his life in her, including even her flesh. And she is the model of what will happen to all of us, please God.
To the degree that we allow the life of Jesus to be laid down in us, we will be able to lay down our lives like Him for others. To that same degree, we will experience his glory when he raises his life up in us at the Resurrection from the dead.
No-one else has ever done or claimed to have the power to do what Jesus did. It is a unique claim and a unique fact. Its effects are also unique as we see in the lives of the saints and in the survival of the Church despite all efforts to destroy her. She is alive with the death and resurrection of Jesus. To anyone who hears of the death and resurrection of Jesus with an open heart and mind, a unique challenge is put. First, to accept and believe it; second, to experience it; third, to live out its demands; and fourth, to be consummated by it in death and eternal life.
So, Christ’s death and resurrection are not peripheral to our personal life or to human history. By faith and the sacraments, they are laid down in them and will be raised up in them, too.