Sunday, March 29, 2015

A special occasion: an Easter reflection

I called a restaurant near us to make a reservation for Easter brunch. I was asked, "Is there a special occasion?"  I laughed and said, "Well, it's Easter Sunday!"  I wanted to say, "Yes, it is rather special: we're celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ."

But I didn't say that, of course. The occasion is really much more significant, in the big scheme of things, than my birthday or anniversary, but how to explain that to anyone is a problem.  Even my emphasis on the big scheme of things requires some explanation.

Despite all the countless books and movies, sermons and courses, just during the past fifty years or so, devoted to understanding the person of Jesus Christ, he remains essentially a mystery. Who was this unique man?

I was reminded of this question by an article in America magazine by the theologian Elizabeth Johnson a few months ago.  She writes: "the mystery of his person was never totally expressed. .  .until the time of his death, when he transcends this world and is raised from the dead. Then his ultimate identity burst upon him in all clarity."

I think she means that, with the Resurrection, Jesus became Christ as the material confronted, and was transformed by, the supernatural; or as T. S. Eliot put it, at the intersection of the timeless with time.  Presumably, according to Johnson, Jesus saw as in a blinding flash the full meaning of his divine nature, which is love through whom each of his followers is united with him---not just those living but all those who have lived and those who will ever live.  He saw his identity as the cosmic Christ.

The cosmic Christ is the source of nothing less than creation and life; through him the entire cosmos is redeemed and enlightened by love. Wow.

Such a mystical insight goes beyond the rational and borrows from poetry (Eliot, Dante) as well as from Teilhard de Chardin and Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote that the person of Jesus Christ is to be understood only in the context of man's entire history and in the context of the whole created cosmos.  Why?  Because the historical Jesus was not born for himself but "for us and for our salvation," as Christians attest.

Through Christ, we who are Christians are one with humanity past, present, and future: we are the body of Christ.  Yet that, too, remains a mystery. Just as the climax of his life, coming after a week of rejection and suffering, is a mystery that transcends the capacity of language to express it.

So Easter, being celebrated this year on April 5, celebrates the ultimate mystery and, like all mysteries, it should be approached with wonder.

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