Easter Sunday and the Holy in an Unholy Week

– Guest article by Fr Emmanuel Mccarthy

The Holy, in what otherwise would be just another in the never-ending sequence of unholy weeks of evil and death, violence and enmity, is Jesus and His Holy response to the unholy. He and His chosen response of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies, even of betraying friends and lethal enemies, is the Holy in Holy Week, because it is the response that is filled with the Spirit of the Holy,God who is love. It is the response of Holy love to the unholy and hence the truthfulness of the name Holy Week. Nevertheless, Holy Week ends, as does every week and every life, in death, the end of Jesus’ life and many other lives, the end of Jesus’ world and the end of the worlds’ of many others.

A day and a half later we hear for the first time the words that will be said trillions of times across the next two thousand years, “He is risen!” Thousands of people had died during the previous week, but only one rises from the dead. Why? Is there any connection between Jesus’ Passion and His Resurrection, between His Cross and His Resurrection? If so, what is it?

If Jesus had suffered and died killing His enemies, using some justified violence theory as His rationale for responding to lethal enemies in this manner, would there be a Resurrection? If Jesus’ were calling for retaliation, retribution, reprisal, an “eye for an eye,” redress or justice from the Cross, would there be a Resurrection? How important is Jesus’ steadfast nonviolent love (agape) of betraying friends and lethal enemies during His Passion for opening the door for the Resurrection and comprehending the salvific revelatory communication from God that the Resurrection imparts? Remembering that nonviolent love even towards lethal enemies was the response to evil, violence, enmity and death chosen by Jesus because it was the will of the Father. He drank fully from the cup of nonviolent suffering love, including its dregs, not in order to suffer but in order to love as the Father loves, “who makes His sun rise on the bad and the good” (Mt 5:43-48; Lk 6:27-36), and do the Father’s “will on earth as it is done in heaven.”

It is possible to say the Father would have raised Jesus from the dead even if He were the moral equivalent of Alexander the Great or a Mafia enforcer to the very end of His life. If such were the case then Jesus’ life decisions regarding unconditional obedience to the Father’s will and what that will was would be irrelevant to His Resurrection. Indeed, nothing in Jesus’ life would be relevant. God was going to do what God was going to do regardless of what Jesus did. However under this interpretation of the saving event, Jesus could have suffered and died in uterobecause of a miscarriage or on a battlefield while trying to kill enemies and the Resurrection would have taken place and salvation would have been brought to humanity. Such is a possible interpretation of the Resurrection, namely, that there is nothing in Jesus’ Passion and death that makes any essential difference in terms of His Resurrection.

But, very, very few in the history of Christianity have given credence to an interpretation that holds there is no essential relationship between the Cross and the Resurrection. Almost all Christians have found it necessary to somehow connect Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. But at least since the time of Constantine that connection has been the mere animal pain of being tortured and executed by crucifixion. Suffering for suffering sake out of obedience to God saved. As this view on the relationship between Cross and Resurrection gradually came to be articulated the point of contact between Cross and Resurrection was the acceptance, because it was the Father’s will, of mind-breaking pain by a Divine Infinite Incarnate Being in order to somehow satisfy an infinite offense or injustice committed against God by the human being.

The pastoral understanding that rationally flowed from such an interpretation was that it was by suffering that a person was saved—and the more the better. By somehow uniting one’s sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross, one built up his or her treasury in heaven and could thereby have spiritual savings galore to offset any spiritual debts he or she may in justice have to pay. One’s suffering on the battlefield while trying to kill his/her enemies or those of his/her nation-state, ethnic group, religion or tribe was as spiritually valid and valuable as suffering while trying to love one’s enemies. The coin of the realm for entering heaven was suffering. Losing one’s life while trying to love one’s enemies and losing one’s life while trying to kill one’s enemies were both salvific acts if united somehow with the death of Jesus. Uncountable numbers of treatises in theology, spirituality, mysticism, metaphysic, morality, church discipline and Church-State relations were written to illuminate and refine this understanding of the relation between Cross and Resurrection and what it called people to if they desired to participate in the salvation made available by Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection.

Over the last five hundred years or so this interpretation of the Cross-Resurrection relationship has undergone some significant shading, or perhaps, alteration. With this revision, Jesus suffering and death on the Cross is still the means of salvation for Christians. However, now, no more was needed after Good Friday 33AD than to “accept Jesus as one’s savior.” Daily self- flagellation or giving up ice cream sodas was irrelevant to one’s salvation, as any and all other acts or works, whether it be loving one’s enemy or killing one’s enemy. All human choices were of no consequence for one’s salvation— except the choice internally “accepting Jesus as one’s savior.”

That Jesus suffered torture and died by crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish and Roman religious and secular political powerhouses of His time and place is a statement of historical fact. That He suffered and died in a Spirit of Nonviolent Love towards all, even His lethal enemies is also an historical fact. “Jesus saves,” however, is a faith statement, not a statement of verifiable historical fact or of reason. That being said, the question immediately arises, how does Jesus save all humanity and me? Is there some way that I am called to participate in or respond to the salvation made available through Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection so that in my freedom I have a part in choosing whether to be saved? Or, is my salvation and the salvation of humanity imposed via the almighty power of God? Depending on the answer, a person lives life differently.

The Gospels tell us that love (agape) and only love saves. Love is the center and the circumference and everything in between of the salvation process. Why? Love is not just the point at which the Cross and Resurrection meet. Love is what completely overlaps, saturates and envelops both events. It and only it has the power to save one and all eternally from evil and death. Love is the Eternal Life of the Eternal One, the Self-communication of the Eternal Life of the Eternal One to each and all, who choose to accept it, participate in it, live and die by it, and for it, in order to communicate it to others for their well being and eternal salvation.

“God is love (agape).” Jesus is the Word of God, God incarnate. The love He lives out of, the love that He choses, the love that He is Uncreated Love that exists from eternity to eternity. It is the love that never did not exists and could never not exists because it is the Love that is God, who always was and always will be. It is the love that Saint Paul states in his famous hymn of Love (1 Cor 13) last forever, that never comes to an end. This is so because it is Love that is the Self-communication of the Eternal IAM. It never ceases because IAM never ceases to be. Love bestows Eternal Life because it is Eternal Life.

One must first have faith in Jesus before one can accept as the will of God what He said and lived unto death, namely, the Way of Nonviolent Love of all always in imitation of Him. Jesus and Jesus alone is the authoritative validator of this truth and unique and ultimate model of this love. He is also the source of the power needed to live in and from this love. The Christian is not living a life in imitation of a dead hero. He or she is living life in, through and with the risen Christ. The power to live the new commandment, the power to “love one another (including enemies) as I have loved you” comes from Christ, the love of Christ, already existing in the person.

God who is love does not desire that Jesus or anyone else to suffer in order to placate Him, to get back into His good graces or to prove they have the right stuff to be a Christian and be saved. Suffering, like death, is the consequence of human beings choosing evil, that is sinning, individually and collectively.  TheHoly in Holy Week is not Jesus’ suffering but His unabated love for all, those who do Him good as well as those who do Him evil. This is what is Holy, this is what saves, this is what is and what bestows Eternal Life (salvation) on one and all, this is the power that overcomes all other powers because it is the Life of God and therefore the almighty power of God. To faithfully live this saving love in order to communicate it to others Jesus had to suffer. A Christian also, in many situations, will have to suffer, or possibly loose his or her life or some cherished piece of it, to communicate this saving love. But the salvific reality of the Cross of Christ to be embraced and lived is Holy love as revealed and lived unto death by Him—not suffering endured or imposed.

Christ is indeed risen! Jesus indeed saves!

.

A word beyond the final words as an Easter present (presence):

The few quotations below are from, The Power and the Wisdom: An Interpretation of the New Testament, (1965), by the preeminent Catholic Biblical scholar of the med-twentieth century, the Rev. John L. McKenzie. The Second Vatican Council had not yet concluded. In the Catholic Church in these times no Jesuit, which McKenzie was, could publish a theological work that did no receives three distinct formal approvals stating publicly that is was free of all doctrinal error. The names of these approvals that a piece of theological writing was in conformity with the Catholic faith were, Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat,and Imprimatur.  The Power and the Wisdom has all three. I mention this only to forestall any uninformed criticism in Catholic circles that what is said is not in conformity with the Magisterium or the Catholic Faith.

-The power which destroys all other powers is the power of love, the love of God revealed and active in Jesus Christ. God revealed in Jesus that He loves man and will deliver him through love and through nothing else.

-The saving act of Jesus is an act of love of the type which He recommends in the Gospels. He loves God by loving His fellow men.Theologians distinguish the “God-ward” and “man-ward” aspects of the saving act; but the New Testament does not use such distinctions. The saving act is all God-ward and all man-ward; it moves toward God by moving toward man, as Jesus tells His disciples they also must do. And He leaves no room for man to move toward God except through his fellow man. 

-John said that the Christian cannot prove his love of God except by his love of man. Matthew makes it very clear that it is not really proved unless the person we love is an enemy.

-Reason demands moderation in love as in all things; faith destroys moderation here. Faith tolerates a moderate love of one’s fellow human beings no more than it tolerates a moderate love between God and man.

-The New Testament speaks of love because it rises out of an uncreated love. The Christian event is not violent; and its effects are not felt through vulgar power. Jesus Himself spoke of its power in the parables of the leaven and the mustard seed. The Christian event moves not to take anything away, but to give man something, love. Man resists it. Man is not ready for love. He never has been. Yet, it is the one enduring reality in the created world, and in it man achieves enduring reality and value.

-No one questions the centrality of love in New Testament morality; it is questionable whether Christians have always grasped how different it is and how total it is. I venture to state its totality by saying that in the New Testament and act which is not an act of love has no moral value at all. There is no moral action in Christian life except the act of love.

-The power of love is seen in the death of Jesus; it is seen more fully in His resurrection. For love is a communication of self; and the Christian is not identified with God in Jesus unless he is identified with Jesus risen. Christ lives. The life of a Christian is not the imitation of a dead hero—and it is worth noticing that it can become just that.

-There is a subtle Christian logic in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give you, that you should love one another as I have loved you.” A more humanly reasonable logic would conclude: “…that you love me as I have loved you.” And this we would conclude, were not the New Testament so insistent upon its own logic.

The power of love is not the power to dominate but the power to communicate self; and the response is communication, tending toward complete identity.

-The Christian knows that his love is the active presence of God in the world; if he lacks it, he takes away God’s presence from the only place where he can put it. He has come between his neighbor and the saving love of Jesus Christ.

 

-Jesus presents in His words and life not only a good way of doing things, not only an ideal to be executed whenever it is convenient, but also the only way of doing what He did.

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