The Paschal Mystery is at the heart of Christianity because it is at the heart of the world’s life. What happens on Calvary is many things, including the vivid glimpse of how Things work.
At the heart of life death dwells, but life springs from that dark heart. The very elements making up our bodies, the cosmos as a whole, were forged in dying stars, the first to flare forth. Dying yields life. The very ground under our feet, the fruit of myriad deaths becomes the grist for greenly springing new life that yields, in turn, life which soon becomes earth.
So is it strange that Jesus dying, as he does upon the rough wood of the cross, was seen, by some, as an ikon, an image, a glimpse of a cosmic "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”? What is revealed on Calvary is the timeless reality of the Crucified God—a God crucified and rising again to continue loving and blessing, creating and re-creating.
What do I mean? Quite simply, that God is present at the heart of this dying-into-new life process, not remote, not watching it from a distance, but in it, with us, beside us, around us. God is Emmanuel, God-with-us, before, during and after the earthly life of Christ. We don’t talk this way, but the saga of the Scriptures is the saga of the crucifixion of God, of how God’s loving purposes, again and again, are frustrated by human sin. Both in parables like the story of the first Parents in Eden and the Tower of Babel and in the saga of Israel’s history interpreted by the faith of the writers,
human beings violate the fabric of God’s goodness in each other, in society, in creation itself.
Cain kills Abel, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery, the children of Israel resist their own freedom,
David murders his captain Uriah to cover up his adultery, the ancient Kingdom of Israel wanders away from God’s path, God’s plan to bless the very ones who keep themselves from the blessing.
This is our story, the story of civilization, ours and every other. There is much good, of course, much human courage and creativity and kindness, but again and again the human race tears at the fabric of God’s goodness, God’s very presence in the world, in creation itself. God is here, God is wounded in us. God is wounded for us.
As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his poem God’s Grandeur.
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And for all this, God’s grace is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things—God’s constant love which has long since determined not to abandon us, whatever we do. Even on the Cross, God remains Emmanuel. Christ, as the Messenger of God, accepts the reality of all human sin dumped upon him, yet keeps on coming among us, determined to help our better angels defeat our worst. Christ on Calvary represents all human suffering, and presents it to God. He represents God’s participation in it all: the homeless, the diseased, the victims.
But he also represents the God who continues to invite us all into his loving embrace. His resurrection declares that new life can come out of suffering and death. The dearest freshness deep down things flows forth in “Father forgive them.” And on Easter he will stand among us saying “Peace be with you.”
From the death of the first generation of stars and the rebirth of the cosmos to the death of Christ and his reappearance in transfigured form, God is life-out-of-death. Which is why this day was, of old, “God’s Friday” and is now called “Good Friday.” Both are true, more than we can ever know.