Friday, April 4, 2014

It's (Not) Always Sunny in the New Jerusalem

True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.

The earth – our earthly nature – should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer. The rocks – the hearts of unbelievers – should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart. Foreshadowings of the future resurrection should appear in the holy city, the Church of God: what is to happen to our bodies should now take place in our hearts.

No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance.

Ignorance has been destroyed, obstinacy has been overcome. The sacred blood of Christ has quenched the flaming sword that barred access to the tree of life. The age-old night of sin has given place to the true light.

The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless indeed they close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief.
Saint Leo the Great, pope

Reflection – More great stuff from the fathers of the Church, courtesy of the Office of Readings. It really does get beautiful this time of year.

Note St. Leo’s emphasis in the first paragraph the importance of recognizing our humanity in Christ crucified. Leo the Great was instrumental in combatting the monophysite heresy which denied a true human nature to Christ. The authentic Christian dogma of Jesus as the one Divine Person of the Son with two natures, divine and human, ‘true God and true man’, can be attributed to a great extent to Leo’s intervention at the council of Chalcedon.

Anyhow – enough with the history of theology. But you can see here what is at stake in those theological debates, the nuances of which may seem a bit abstruse. ‘What has not been assumed, cannot be redeemed,’ is the patristic formula. Whatever Christ who is God did not truly take to Himself, remains outside the realm of divine grace.

So that Christ has embraced our full humanity in every dimension—body, soul, mind, will—and in a sense even has embraced our sin—not that he has sinned, which is impossible, but that he accepted the full weight and consequence of sin in our lives—means that every aspect of our humanity is now flooded with the grace of divine love and redemption and life.

And it is the totality of this redemption that is important. Nobody is beyond it, nobody outside it. There is no dimension, no expression of human sin and brokenness, of human wretchedness and tragedy, that Christ cannot reach, and reaching, save. We are not stuck, we very simply and basically are not stuck in whatever morass of sin and awfulness we may find ourselves in.

Now, most of us moderns (at least of the North American variety) hear that, and immediately we go into a sort of prosperity Gospel mode. ‘Well, then, so if I follow Jesus, my emotional wounds will all clear up, my life will go from strength to strength, and everything will just be sunny and warm and loverly every day.’ And then, when it turns out that’s not quite the deal God is offering us, ‘Well, it’s all just nonsense, then – religion – what a con!’

The truth of the redemption and the hope Jesus offers us is much deeper than a sort of ‘It’s always sunny in the new Jerusalem’ apple pie optimism. In this life, for a variety of reasons usually too complex for us to fully grasp, we carry the burden of our humanity and its broken condition. Problems don’t just clear up with the application of ‘Jesus juice’ three times a day for a week. Sin and its effects in our life remain, a sharp goad towards humility and repentance, for a very long time in all of our lives.

But what Jesus does is give us a way through. We are not there yet, we are not home free, but we are not stuck, either. God always opens a path, a way forward, a little stretch of road, maybe just one or two steps, towards the new Jerusalem, towards the fullness of life in Christ. The path is open, for everyone, and no one is left outside, unless that is the choice they themselves make. And this is the great hope and joy and beauty of our Easter faith, even in the midst of the great Lent of the world when it is so often obscured in us by our own weakness of faith and inconstancy of prayer and vision.

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