Posted by: frroberts | April 3, 2015

Good Friday Sermon: Jesus died of a broken heart

When we meditate on the Passion of our Blessed Lord, it would be easy for us to get caught up in the barbarous torture that Jesus suffered at the hands of the High Priest’s guards, the scourging He received from the Roman soldiers and His crowning with thorns, His carrying the Cross and the nails that were driven into his hands and feet and his agony on the Cross and finally His death. These physical torments were truly awful, probably far more painful and bloody than they were depicted in Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

In our reflections today, however, we will not meditate on these physical sufferings of Jesus, but on His mental suffering, something that was far, far worse.

Jesus, being God, is absolutely without sin. This means that, unlike us, He loves with a totally undivided and pure human heart. When we love someone else, we often do so with mixed motives.  Our hearts have been hardened through our sins and wounds inflicted on us by the sins of others. These deformations make us free to choose not to love.

This is not the case with Jesus. His heart cannot stop loving. His Sacred Heart continues to pour itself out, even to His most bitter enemies all throughout His Passion.

Can you imagine how much Jesus’ heart ached during his Passion? Can you imagine the soul-splitting anguish He experienced?

One of His first priests turned him over for only 30 pieces of silver and betrayed Him with a kiss. His best friend, Peter, denied that he even knew His name. All but one of the other ten Apostles ran away from Him in His hour of need. Out of envy, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders who should have been the first to recognize Him as the Messiah, handed Him over to be executed by Gentiles.

Pilate knew He was innocent, but sought to buy popularity with Jesus’ death. The Roman soldiers who scourged Him were enjoying themselves so much tearing flesh from bone that they decided to have some more fun and crown a man scourged beyond recognition with thorns. Open your ears and hear the blasphemies that spewed from the soldiers’ mouths as they pressed the thorns into our Blessed Lord’s head.

The mob chose to set a murderer free rather than spare Jesus’ innocent life. Hate dripped from their lips as they howled, “His blood be on us and out children.” And as He hung naked on the Cross, He did so with the knowledge that His mother was standing by watching Him die and listening to Him being cursed and reviled by Jew and Gentile alike, even by those who were being crucified with Him. Consider the tears that He must have seen running down our Blessed Mother’s face and how her tortured sobs reached His ears as He was dying.

But all throughout His passion Jesus didn’t stop loving each and every one of those who were causing Him to die, ourselves included, with a personal, unique, unrepeatable love. Even unto His last breath, love and mercy flowed out of His heart. He felt, like none of us could ever feel, an unspeakable pain of rejection because He loves so intensely. Unlike us, His heart could not put up walls of defense against the hatred, betrayal and depraved indifference that was in the hearts of those around Him during His Passion. Instead, His heart was torn open by our sins.

Some biblical scholars have speculated that Jesus died of asphyxiation on the Cross– that He eventually was unable to breathe due to the tremendous stress of having to hold himself up. This seems quite unlikely. The Passion accounts in the Gospels tell us that Jesus spoke from the Cross and even that he let out a loud cry before dying. It would be difficult to imagine how this could have happened if He were suffocating on his own breath. It seems more likely to me that Jesus died not of asphyxiation but literally of a broken heart.

While Jesus was carrying the Cross on His shoulders with His hands bound, He fell several times. His arms could not brace His fall, and His chest could not but strike the pavement with great force. These chest traumas would have caused His heart to bruise. Hanging from the Cross with nails driven into His hands and feet, after having nearly been scourged to death, His pulse quickened, perhaps it even doubled. Very quickly this bruise on His heart grew, becoming an aneurysm. Every time his heart beat, the aneurysm would grow larger and larger, filling with blood and clear fluid. Eventually the pressure created would cause His heart to burst.

This is entirely consistent with the biblical passion narratives. Jesus, having felt the pressure building in His chest, recognized that His end was near. This theory explains the mysterious flow of blood and clear fluid from His chest cavity when His side was opened with a lance.

Jesus loves each and every one of us with an infinite, personal and unrepeatable love. And when we sin, we break that heart that loves us so much.

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