This week, the strangest thing will occur. Millions of Christians throughout the world will gather to honor the humiliation, torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In a global culture that usually celebrates power, strength and beauty, this public reverence of something so horrific is always a little shocking. Could it be that what so many people find absolutely compelling about the Passion narrative is the vulnerability of God?
In the Christ event, God leaves the safety and glory of heaven, in a sense, and embraces the limitations of our human condition, coming to know, in the flesh, both the glory and the tragedy of our nature without ever sinning. In the last week of his life, Jesus completely hands himself over to us. In the foot washing and the Eucharist, in the scourging and the crucifixion, the Son of God loves us completely, without restrictions, conditions or limits. Whether we accept, reject or ignore this Divine Love, Jesus does not change his stance toward us.
In Roman and Greek mythology, the gods are always scheming to manipulate humanity to serve their often-selfish ends and ego-driven schemes. In Christ, we encounter the startling subversion of this oppressive game. God serves us! In total humility, availability, vulnerability and mercy, God has come to love, forgive and save us.
The weakness of the cross, the simplicity of the Eucharist, the shock of the foot washing, the love that seeks to embrace a traitor, a thief and a coward is so far beyond the competition of power politics, the whirl of social hubris and the grasp of worldly striving, that it takes our breath away. No wonder that kings will stand speechless in the presence of the Suffering Servant, as Isaiah proclaims.
If God could become that poor, vulnerable and humble to love me, then how can I ever stand on my self-importance? This week, we celebrate the strangest things – weakness becomes strength, love conquers fear, wretched despair gives way to resurrected hope and never-ending death is swallowed up by eternal life – and it’s all because a naked criminal was thrown down on a cross 2,000 years ago and he embraced it as if it were his marriage bed.
One of the signs of God’s action in our lives and human history is amazement and surprise. None of Jesus’ disciples could have anticipated the shock of the crucifixion – Jesus’ violent arrest, unjust condemnation and terrifying death. Nor would they ever have dared to hope in the possibility of his resurrection. Both the dying and the rising of Jesus left his followers numb, incredulous, stirred up, but ultimately transformed and redeemed.
In our human experience, are we not moved and shaken by both unanticipated tragedy and unexpected goodness? Life is so much more beautiful and difficult, more miraculous and painful than we often assume. The Paschal Mystery of Christ reveals to us that God is abundantly present in both the light and the darkness, the glory and the shame, the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday.
We will go to Mass on Easter Sunday and fail to be surprised by the proclamation of the empty tomb; we know how the story ends. But do we really?
Perhaps the questions to ask are: What is the Lord Jesus up to in my life now? Where are the empty tombs and the hints of the divine presence today? What disguises will the risen Christ assume and what will he say to my soul tomorrow? How is God present in the darkness and the anguish of this broken world?
Can we believe that Jesus will break through the locked doors of our hearts and breathe a peace that we have never known? When Christ sits down with us in the holy Eucharist, blessing and breaking the Bread, will we rush back to Jerusalem and shout, “We have seen the Lord”?
A blessed Easter to all of you!