Jesus died praying

ratzingerI’ve chosen to read through Ratzinger’s meditations Behold The Pierced One (1986) for Lent this year. (Yes, Lent and fasting at an Assembly of God church in California of all places – go figure). I couldn’t believe that my reading today took me back to Jesus’ cry of desperation “My God, my God, why?” which I’ve posted about many times here. And I was happy to see in Pope Benedict’s mediation what I had not seen before and to be challenged to ponder Christ’s sufferings anew.

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Jesus died praying…He fashioned his death into an act of prayer, an act of worship. According to Matthew and Mark he raised his voice to a “loud cry” as he uttered the opening words of Psalm 21, the great psalm of the suffering and yet rescued righteous man: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). Both Evangelists also tell us that these words were not understood by the bystanders, who interpreted Jesus’ cry as his calling for Elijah. According to them, therefore, it needed faith to understand that his death cry of Jesus was the messianic prayer of the great psalm of the sufferings and hopes of Israel, concluding with the prospect of the poor being satisfied and the ends of the earth being turned to the Lord…The theology of the Cross found in this psalm applied to him just as much as the promise’s fulfillment, this attribution was shown to be true; the psalm was shown to be Jesus’ own word: no one else could pray it as truly as he could, rejected and despised, and yet, in this very condition, sustained and glorified by the Father. It must be borne in mind that the whole story of the Passion was woven, again and again, from the threads of this psalm; the account reveals a constant interpenetration of word and reality: here the archetypal suffering, portrayed anonymously by this psalm, had become concrete reality; here this primal suffering on the part of the Righteous One—apparently rejected by God—had actually taken place. Thus it became clear that Jesus was the true speaker of this psalm, that he had undergone that suffering from which came the feeding of the poor and the turning of the nations to worship the God of Israel.

…[H]is dying was itself an act of prayer, his death was [a] handing-over of himself to the Father…Jesus prayed in the words of scripture and that Scripture became flesh in him, became the actual Passion of this Righteous One; and that he thus inserted his death into the word of God, in which he lived and which lived in him, declaring itself in him.

Once this has been seen, the indissoluble bond between the Supper and the death of Jesus is also plain: his dying words fuse with his words at the Supper, the reality of his death fuses with the reality of the Supper. For the event of the Supper consists in Jesus sharing his body and his blood, i.e., his earthly existence; he gives and communicates himself. In other words, the event of the Supper is an anticipation of death, the transformation of death into an act of love. Only in this context can we understand what John means by calling Jesus’ death the glorification of God and the glorification of the Son (Jn 12:28; 17:21). Death, which, by its very nature, is the end, the destruction of every communication, is changed by him into an act of self-communication; and this is man’s redemption, for it signifies the triumph of love over death. We can put the same thing another way: death, which puts an end to words and to meaning, itself becomes a word, becomes the place where meaning communicates itself. (emphasis mine)