Monday, April 5, 2010

The Wounded God: Meditations About Resurrection

I. Did he still carry the dark of Hades in his eyes?

When he appeared to them, that startled and soul-shaken band of grieving disciples, Jesus carried the wounds of his torture with him. Whatever the reality of that transformed body was, the past had not been obliterated. So as Jesus faces his disciples, his wounds remain—and meet theirs.

The text does not speak of their wounds, which are not visible. Rather it speaks of their hesitancy in believing the surprising news, and their slow, reluctant opening to belief even when he appears to them. But surely they were wounded by their cowering as he was executed. And who knows what resentment had brooded in them against Jesus for pushing them beyond their limits into a "Test" — which they had failed? Their wounds meet his as his dark stare meets their guilty, fearful, and hopeful eyes.

He greets them with, however, not with accusations, but with “Peace be to you," and greeting meant to invite their "and with you, peace." Carrying his past and theirs, he is not imprisoned in it.

In the light of such a somber beginning to the Resurrection, the Hallelujah and Hoopla of most Easter Sunday services often seems a bit too much — as if by shouting loudly, beating drums, and blasting away on trumpets we try to reassure ourselves that death isn’t such a big deal, and evil is easily undone. "The three sad days are quickly sped" neglects the descent into the timelessness (and, historically, the perennial return) of the powers of darkness.

Descent among the dead

In Pico della Mirandola’s remarkable “Risen Christ,” Jesus seems to carry more than his physical wounds back from the grave. The somber stare of his seemingly deadened eyes speak not only of the memory of the cross, but the eyes seem dark with the shadow of Hades itself. As early Christians believed, "he descended among the dead"(1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6).

Descents into Hades were popular in ancient literature. Just recall the sad tale of Orpheus seeking to reclaim his beloved Eurydice, or Ulysees visiting his father. Jesus was believed to be successful where Orpheus was not —but who was the “beloved” he set out to find?

Astonishingly enough, as noted in the my Holy Saturday blog, Jesus descends to give all the rebellious souls who “refused to obey” in the Great Flood the chance of a new future. He went to rescue these condemned sinners (not just the righteous saints of the Old Covenant, as medieval Christianity wanted us to believe). He went among those alienated from God, stuck in the darkness of their self-chosen alienation.

To reverse the past? Not possible. They had been in “the prison” since the Flood, living with the consequences of their resistance to their own best interests. Deeds have consequences. Apologies are weak antidotes when mistakes, or misdeeds, have taken a real toll. But he went to give them a chance for a different future—the same opportunity he had given lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, the rich, and the poor in his lifetime. As his light went among them, they could see their past in a new light, and their long lament over the tragic mistake of refusing Noah’s message became the penitence that can lead to new life. They were, we are told, “made alive in the spirit.”

Entering the heart of alienation

How did he do this for those “in darkness and the shadow of death”? The story doesn’t tell us, but I think he entered into the heart of humanity’s own alienation from God. Souls that are large and deep can do this. They can feel, from within, the fear, bitterness, and despair of the human heart without being lost forever in the darkness.

Jesus somehow immersed himself in both the God-forsaking and the God-forsakenness—all without losing his taproot in God’s love. He had learned from his own moments of dereliction, his own moments of “testing” by the Darkness, how to find his way back to the Light. He was able to share that secret with those in the prison of alienation, remorse, and hopelessness. Given hope, their own innate, but darkened connection with God re-ignited.

Such transfigurations of past mistakes into sorrowful learning are not confined to the realm of Hades, of course. The past is always rewritten, moment by moment, by the present. The memory of betrayal can change in the light of repentance and a renewal of relationship. What had seemed the end of a relationship can be seen as a painful episode, but not the end of possibility.

And yet to “forgive and forget” seems a bit utopian. If wounds are deep enough, scar tissue always remains. The issue is how we carry it. We forgive and remember, with gratitude, that the dark past is not the prison we feared it to be. Then, and only then, can we dare utter "Alleluia."

Next week:

Reordering the past: "He opened the Scriptures to them."

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