Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 26, 2010
Jesus Christ: Crucified and Risen Lord
Following is the text of the talk by Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver to the April 15 session of Nothing More Beautiful
It is an honour for me to be present with you this evening to take part in this great initiative, Nothing More Beautiful, an initiative which is directed to giving concrete expression to the new evangelization in the Archdiocese of Edmonton and its call to proclaim the beauty and joy of knowing Christ Jesus and his Gospel.
As the Church continues to celebrate the radiance of her Risen Lord in this season of Eastertide, it is my task to offer some theological reflections on tonight's topic: Jesus Christ: Crucified and Risen Lord. In preparing this catechesis, I have relied largely on the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, as this is found in his homilies, messages and discourses which treat various dimensions of the Paschal Mystery.
1. UNITY OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE PASCHAL MYSTERY
As we know, our faith as Christians is not born from the acceptance of a doctrine but from an encounter with a person, with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. His death and resurrection fully reveal the depth of God's Trinitarian love. In the drama of the Paschal Mystery, God lives to the extreme his becoming man and, at the same time, he offers us a share in its salvific fruitfulness.
Faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord is the heart of the entire Gospel message; it is the very core of our creed. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Paschal Mystery of Christ's cross and resurrection stands at the centre of the Good News that the Apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world" (n. 571).
At the outset, I would like to remind you that the Paschal Mystery is one saving action of Jesus Christ, even though speaking distinctly of his death and resurrection is necessary. Nor should this one event of Good Friday and Easter Sunday be isolated from his birth and public ministry. Rather, the Paschal Mystery sums up or concentrates his obedience to the Father, a life which led to his death on the cross before his exaltation to God's right hand (cf. Philippians 2.8-9).
In the liturgy we express the unity of the Paschal Mystery by such acclamations as "dying, you destroyed our death; rising, you restored our life"; or, even more explicitly, "By your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world."
1.1 DEATH AND RESURRECTION IN PAUL
If we want to get back to the origins of the Church's faith in Christ as one and the same Lord, crucified and risen for our salvation, we do well to look to the teaching of St. Paul. According to Pope Benedict, the apostle's Christology has a precise concern: "to proclaim the central reality of his (Christ's) death and resurrection as the culmination of his earthly existence and the root of the successive development of the whole Christian faith" (general audience, Oct. 22, 2008).
For the apostle, Jesus' resurrection cannot be divorced from his death: the Risen Lord remains the Crucified One. Paul came to understand this identification of the Risen Jesus with the Crucified Christ in the surprising encounter with him on the road to Damascus. At that moment, it was clearly revealed to the Apostle that the Crucified One is the Risen One, and the Risen One is the Crucified One, who asked him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9.4).
1.2 PHILIPPIANS 2.5-11
One of the most significant texts in the Pauline canon is found in chapter two of his Letter to the Philippians, the Christological hymn prayed weekly at the liturgy of First Vespers for Sunday:
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.
"Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2.5-11).
Most biblical scholars today agree that this passage reproduces an earlier composition than the text found in St. Paul's letter. Regardless, this hymn clearly points out that Jesus Christ - exalted and given "the name that is above every other name," that is, "Lord" (Philippians 2.9, 11) - is the same one who was obedient unto death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2.8).
For the Apostle, the Risen Lord is the source of every effort to proclaim the Gospel and the great passion that sustains his footsteps on the roads of the world. This Exalted One is the "Christ," Paul says, "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2.20). He is both the Crucified and Risen Lord.
A close examination of the hymn shows that the "Lord," Jesus Christ, was divine from all eternity, since "he was in the form of God" (Philippians 2.6). The Son's voluntary self-abasement in the Incarnation propelled him to the obedience of the cross. The contrast between this radical humbling of Christ and his subsequent glorification is striking, even awesome. Contrary to the claim of Adam, who wanted to make a god of himself, the gesture of the Son of God, the New Adam, is exactly the opposite: not pride and power but humility and love reveal the face of God.
2. THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST AS LORD
Now, I would like to offer some reflections, again relying largely but not exclusively on the Holy Father's insights regarding the Calvary Christ as Lord.
2.1 "IT IS FINISHED" (JOHN 19.30)
"It is finished," Jesus said hanging in agony, and then "he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19.30). Precisely at this final moment, when the sun shrouded its face for shame and blackness draped Golgotha, as the Son of God was offering himself as an oblation, the Father poured out the Holy Spirit on the world. When he died on the cross, Jesus "gave up his spirit," anticipating the gift of the Holy Spirit that he would make after his resurrection (cf. John 20.22).
What did Jesus mean when he said, "It is finished"? Certainly, it was not just a sigh of relief, "It's all over at last - no more pain, no more suffering; mission accomplished." No, not that.
Rather, these words express Jesus' awareness of having carried out to the full the "work" for which the Father had sent him into this world: "I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do" (cf. John 17.4), he said to his disciples at the Last Supper. His earlier hesitation in Gethsemane yielded on Calvary to "yet not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22.42). Jesus' "work," the mission for which the Son came to earth, had reached its completion.
As Jesus was drawing his last breath, St. Luke records that he cried out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23.46). Entrusting his life into the Father's hands, he knew that his death was to be the source of life.
He had to give his life - his was a death which he "voluntarily accepted," as we proclaim in the Second Eucharistic Prayer - he had to give his life just as the seed in the ground must be destroyed so that a new plant may flourish: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12.24). Pope Benedict has commented on this passage in this way:
"Jesus is that grain of wheat which falls to the earth, is split open, is destroyed and dies. For this very reason it can bear fruit. From the cross, which seems to be a sign of desolation, abandonment and failure, comes a new beginning. From the depths of death is raised up the fruit of eternal life" (reflection after the Via Crucis, April 2, 2010).
We can say, therefore, that the Father, looking up on his Son as he was being crucified, may even have rejoiced: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3.17). Jesus had taken upon himself our pain and death - the wages of sin. "God (has) allowed himself to become involved in the tormented chronicles of humanity" (reflection after the Via Crucis, April 2, 2010),to know the very depths of the human condition.
2.2 REVELATION OF THE LOVE OF GOD
According to Benedict, God's love for us can be described with the term agape, that is, "the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other" (Message for Lent, 2007). But his love for us is also one of eros. In the sacrifice of the cross, God shows that his love for humankind is passionate. Here the overwhelming wonder of the Father's mercy is revealed in all of its fullness. In order to win back the love of his creatures, he accepted the price of redemption as the blood of his Son.
Eros in God is that force which "does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved" (Pseudo-Dionysus). It led the Son of God, sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit, to make himself one with us, even to the point of being "wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53.5). "On the cross, it is God himself who begs for the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us" (Message for Lent 2007).
The crucifixion gives us proof of the sacrificial and limitless love that led the Son of God to become man, vulnerable like us, even to dying as a crucified criminal.
In the death of Christ, therefore, God shows us who he really is. The fragile shell of the humanity assumed by the Son of God is shattered on Golgotha, and a flood of love - the gift of the Spirit - bursts forth to renew all humanity. From the wood of the cross, God reveals himself most clearly as the One who is love (cf. 1 John 4.16). Indeed, as the Holy Father has observed: "The death of Jesus on the cross is the greatest act of love in all of history" (homily, Nov. 25, 2007).
3. THE EASTER JESUS AS LORD
"If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. . . . and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15.14, 17). With these forceful and familiar words from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul attributes decisive importance to Jesus' resurrection as the fulfillment of his death. The crucifixion alone was not the kerygma, the essential proclamation of the Good News.
Without the resurrection, Paul insists, the Christian faith would be a sham. "The story of Jesus would have ended on Good Friday. His body would have decayed, and he would have become a has-been" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth). Our salvation rests on the fact that the Crucified Christ revealed himself as the Risen Jesus, who "was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15.4).
3.2 THE PASSAGE FROM CRUCIFIED CHRIST TO RISEN LORD
In his farewell discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus announced to his disciples his imminent death and resurrection with these mysterious words: "I am going away, and I am coming to you," he said (John 14.28). Dying is certainly a "going away." In the case of every human death, this "going away" is definitive. There is no return once the portals of death have closed. No one can return from there. No key in our hands can unlock those iron doors.
Only Christ has the key. His cross, his sacrificial love "to the end" (John 13.1), is the key that has opened wide the locked gates of death. They are barred no longer. "The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die - this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death"(homily at Easter Vigil 2007). Jesus' dying was an act of love and, because love is immortal, it does not die: "love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13.1).
Therefore, the Son of God did not, indeed could not, remain in the tomb. It was impossible for him to be held prisoner by death (cf. Acts 2.24). That dark tomb was unable to suppress the radiance of "the Living One" (Revelation 1.18), who is the very author of life. At the moment of resurrection, Jesus' "lifeless body was suffused with the living breath of God and, as the walls of the tomb were shattered, he rose in glory" (Urbi et Orbi message, Easter 2006). Yet no one saw or heard or sensed when his body was re-united to his soul. It took place in the mystery and silence of the Triune God.
Christ had completed his earthly journey in the tomb, as all of us do, but he conquered death. In an absolutely new way, he opened the earth, throwing it open to heaven. In Jesus' resurrection, love shows itself to be more powerful than death, stronger than evil.
How could this happen? Pope Benedict notes that "out of love, he could allow himself to be killed, but precisely by doing so he broke the definitiveness of death, because in him the definitiveness of life was present. He was one single reality with indestructible life, in such a way that it burst forth anew through death" (homily at Easter Vigil, 2006).
Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bore the stigmata, the signs of his Passion - his hands and his side and his feet. Nor do they ever leave him. His wounds, his suffering, have become the sign that sacrificial love, love to the end, can conquer death.
3.3 RISEN LIFE IS NEW LIFE
Jesus' risen life does not mean that he returned to the same life that he had lived before with his family and disciples. He was not like Lazarus, who enjoyed only a temporary reprieve from the finality of death. If this had been the case, such a resurrection would have been only an event of the past. Christ's resurrection, however, is the passage to a profoundly new dimension of life. "Jesus does not simply take up his life again where he left it on Good Friday. He lives a new life, yet he is the same Jesus" (Co-Workers of the Truth).
Jesus now exists in a form of presence which will never end. During his earthly life, like us, he was tied to the external restraints of bodily existence: to fixed times and places. His body, like ours, placed limits on him. For example, we cannot be in two different places simultaneously. Moreover, our life is but a breath in duration; it is destined to come to an end.
With the Risen Lord, all these constraints are removed. He is free from all such barriers and limits. Now he can pass not only through closed doors as in the upper room (cf. John 20.19), but also through the door between yesterday and today, the door between the past and the future.
Pope Benedict has described this "newness" of Jesus' risen body by borrowing from the language of the theory of evolution. He once said that the resurrection "is the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order" (homily at Easter Vigil, 2006).
At the same time, the Holy Father insists that the resurrection is a historical reality. It is neither a myth nor a dream - not a vision or a fairy tale. The Lord's resurrection is a one-time, unrepeatable event.
Today we must assert this truth forcefully, because there are those who deny the historicity of the resurrection, reducing the Gospel narratives to a myth or to a "vision" of the apostles. They take up worn-out theories as if they were new and scientific. But their efforts are in vain.
The Church's faith in the resurrection is dependent on the testimony of those who directly experienced the Lord in his glorified body. They saw, heard and even touched him, not only with their eyes or their senses but also with an interior light that helped them recognize what their external senses perceived as objective fact. "It is only when the heart sees him that the eyes can recognize him" (Co-Workers of the Truth).
The appearances to the women and disciples are a fundamental condition for our belief that Jesus Christ left no body behind to corrupt in the tomb. These two historical facts are crucial: the tomb was empty, and Jesus did in fact appear to witnesses. By combining this twofold evidence, the links of the tradition concerning the historicity of Jesus' resurrection were forged. Through the testimony of those who witnessed both the tomb and the Risen Lord, the proclamation that Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, is risen from the dead has reached successive generations down to our own day.
3.4 SALVATION AS THE FRUIT OF THE PASCHAL MYSTERY
While, in the first place, the resurrection was an event for the Lord Jesus, let us remember that, in God's providential design, it was also as we say in the Creed "for us men and for our salvation." If the Lamb of God had not been crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, our destiny and that of the world would inevitably lead to death in all its forms.
The Crucified and Risen Lord, however, has reversed this downward spiral into the abyss. Still marked with the wounds of the Passion (cf. John 20.20, 27), he is now "a new creation, like a graft that can regenerate the whole plant. It (the resurrection) is an event that has profoundly changed the course of history, tipping the scales once and for all on the side of good, of life, of pardon. We are free, we are saved!"(Urbit et Orbi message, Easter 2010). "By your cross and resurrection, you have set us free."
When our faith is rooted in a personal encounter of the One Crucified and Risen for us, that faith impels us to cry out to the world: "Jesus who was crucified for our sins is risen and lives forever." As the Lord's disciples, this is our mission today: joyfully to proclaim and witness to the beauty and wonder of Christ's death and resurrection. Under the maternal protection of Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, may the power of God's love shown us in the death and resurrection of Christ make us "one body, one spirit in him."
When this happens here in Edmonton, sadness will change into joy, disappointment will open to hope, and fear will give way to the fresh missionary enthusiasm of the new evangelization in Western Canada.
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