12 April 2017

Reflection on Approaching the Triduum

I did a reflection for my parish community this morning. It's very different from other reflections I have done because it is essentially composed of the contents of an email I sent my director when I just didn't know what to say from among all the notes I had written and the various starts I had made. She responded that the homily was right in front of me in the paragraphs she was reading. N.B.,The pronouns were shifted from "them" to "you" when I addressed the assembly.  Anyway, I sincerely hope this helps readers move into the Triduum. N.B., an emboldened section has been added to explain the distinction between what God does and does not will. I felt that was needed.

. . . I need a homily I can send folks into the Triduum with, something which allows them to see things from a new perspective, with new eyes. I want to suggest how rich these days are and why they are at the center of our faith. I want to share these things because they inspire and sustain me every day of my life. I WANT to do that for them.
 
For instance, I want them to know that the world that existed before the Cross no longer exists after the cross. I want them to understand that that during these three days the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” was accomplished in principle, and that heaven and earth --- though not one reality yet, interpenetrate one another in ways they never did before the original “Triduum”. I want them (you) to know that one day we will all of us live together in what Paul calls a new heaven and a new earth, and I want you to know that “HEAVEN” means God’s own life shared with others and that WHEREVER and WHENEVER that occurs, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection made sure it occurs for us HERE AND NOW.
 
I want them to know that during these next three days NOT everything that happens is the will of God. Whether achieved in strength or weakness, everything that Jesus does, everything that he says yes to (or maybe better put, every yes he says), everything he embraces out of love for us and his Father IS the will of God. We celebrate these things with deepest reverence and gratitude. But I want them to know that the torture, suffering, betrayal, abandonment, and horrific death Jesus suffers are not the will of God. Rather, it is Jesus' even more exhaustive openness to and trust in God in the face of these now-inevitable, but humanly engineered atrocities that is the will of God. The cup of obedience --- the chalice of vulnerability, of openness to and exhaustive dependence upon his Father's love --- this is the cup God wills His Son drink fully. God wills his Son's compassionate and complete vulnerability so that God may transform godless reality with his presence; He does not will the rest.**** If we can see the difference we are in a position to see how it is that whenever we do our worst, as Judas did in today’s readings, as Peter will do, and as we have all done from time to time, our God ALWAYS acts to bring good out of evil and life out of death. During these three days that is revealed (made known AND made real in space and time!) more definitively and clearly than anywhere else.
 
I want them to hear that too often we have had things backwards when we approach these next three day’s events. Especially I want them to hear loudly and clearly that God was reconciling the world to (him)self (he was bringing it all home to himself and making it his dwelling place); God was not being reconciled to us --- as though he needed to be placated or appeased or propitiated because he was angry or his honor had been sullied or any other entirely fool idea of Divine “justice”. He was reconciling us to himself simply because he loves us and desires to dwell with us. Of course he deals with sin and death --- with all those things marked by godlessness; he does so by making them part of his own experience and life and becoming part of them so they can never again separate us from Godself.
 
I want them to know that these three days show us the way God does justice. Divine justice is a matter of God asserting his rights over us --- something he does by (mercifully) loving us into wholeness. There is nothing more powerful, more healing, more right-making. Divine justice is the way God creates a future, a way forward so we can live freely in joy and die in peace because whenever God says an unreserved NO to sin he says an unconditional YES to us. One more thing we’ve gotten backwards: often we have treated God’s justice as though it is the quid pro quo of retributive justice or the pale, tight-fisted distributive justice given to those who really don’t deserve much at all anyway. (We compound the problem when we suggest Divine justice must be augmented by or softened with mercy.) Mercy is the way God loves and loving is the way God does justice. As Paul says, it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us and revealed a Divine love from which nothing at all can separate us. Especially I  want them to know that this world is God’s --- that he chose it and us. He made it his own dwelling place and us his own Daughters and Sons and he did so [in a unique and definitive way] during the three days we are making ready to celebrate.
 
And finally I want them to know that despite the human cruelty, venality and violence done to an entirely innocent One, Good Friday was not simply some terrible mistake nor is Easter God’s way of correcting or righting that. Instead, on Good Friday Christ entered the far place like any prodigal; on God’s behalf he embraced the darkest most godless realities in our world and made them God’s own. He did so to be sure no one will ever again be separated from him or be left prodigals in some far place untouched by his presence and love. God has chosen to abide with us in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place, to establish his heavenly Kingdom here among us [where we have often believed it has no right to be]; Rather than undoing all this Easter establishes it as true forever (as eternally valid). This is the way God takes sin seriously; it is the way he forgives sin. All of this (and more!) is what is revealed (made known and real in space and time) during the Triduum.
 
I hope your Triduum is a rich one.

**** N.B. a central or defining dimension of death is the final decision one makes for or against God. It is possible to say that God willed this dimension of Jesus' death but not the circumstances that occasioned the death or the manner in which this whole event comes about. In Christian theology this decision is the very essence of death; it is a final and definitive decision for or against God. For this reason to speak of "willing one's death" is to speak of "willing one's final decision"; from this perspective the word "death" means "definitive decision". The two terms are interchangeable or synonymous. 

When we consider the question of "What did God will and what did God NOT will?" through this lens, what God willed was not Jesus' torture and crucifixion, but his exhaustive self-emptying --- his definitive decision for God and the sovereignty of God. In Jesus' death this kenotic decision was realized in ultimate openness to whatever God would be and do ---even in abject godlessness. Understanding death in this way allows us to tease apart more satisfactorily what was and what was not the will of God with regard to Jesus' passion and death. In referring to this defining dimension of death we are allowed to say, "God willed Christ's death." It is also by forgetting this very specific definition of death (i.e., death as radical or definitive decision for or against God) that we have been led to tragically and mistakenly affirm the notion that the torture Jesus experienced at human hands and as the fruit of human cruelty and injustice was the will of God.