Tag: cross

The consequence of Mary’s ‘yes’

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If today weren’t in Holy Week, it would be the feast of the Annunciation. The coming together of a celebration of the Incarnation with that of Christ’s Passion is rich matter for reflection.

You can’t have an Incarnation, a truly becoming human of God, without the death of God Incarnate, because to be human in this world is amongst other things to die. And you can’t have an Incarnation in a world damaged by domination, hatred, and envy without God Incarnate dying at our hands. The Cross is quite simply what our world does to a perfectly loving human being, which is the only kind of human being God could have become. In this sense, the Cross is a straightforward consequence of the Incarnation, of Mary’s ‘yes’.

But if the Incarnation cannot be understood properly apart from the Cross, nor can the Cross be understood apart from the Incarnation. There is a temptation to think that the Cross is redemptive because of the horrendous suffering it involves, that somehow God sees the suffering Jesus goes through and decides to spare us eternal torment because of it. A grotesque travesty often confused for orthodoxy, this view is a short distance from the view that the Cross is something God does. God demands that Jesus suffer, and brings it about. Whereas the Cross is something we do (it is something God does only in the trivial sense in that every event and action in the universe is created). It is redemptive because it is the culmination of the life of God Incarnate, the life which weds heaven to earth and offers our human family to the Father, joining us to the Father through that eternal love we call the Spirit (on the Cross, notice, Jesus ‘gives up the Spirit’). We cannot understand how the Cross saves without understanding both that death is the climax of a life, the point at which a life is offered up, and that the person who dies on the Cross is God. This is the point at which a divinely human life, and us in union with it, is offered to the Father.

God became human so that human beings might become divine – on the Cross we see God’s humanity consumated. So our divinity is born.

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A good death

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God cannot die, whatever Nietzsche might have thought. Nor can God suffer. It is worth emphasising these points, since a well-intentioned trend of recent decades has it that God is susceptible to emotions and, in some sense, suffers alongside us. It is understandable enough why, faced with the carnage of contemporary human existence and the private tragedies that accompany the business of simply living, someone might want to rebel against an image of God as passive and uncaring. However, there is already a mistake here: to assume that if God does not suffer, God is passive, that if God does not have emotions, God is cold, is to assume that God occupies the same logical space as ourselves, that the options available to God – so to speak – are those laid out before us. Whereas the creator of all things lies beyond our capacity to grasp; God’s nature is hidden from us. So we speak of him conscious of the inadequacy of our words, in analogy and metaphor (including, of course, metaphors involving suffering and emotion).

And yet, what God cannot do as God, God does as a human being. The Word of God, incarnate as a human being, dies a human death in Christ and suffers human sufferings in Christ. Because of the events the Church celebrates today, our God, incarnate as human and risen and ascended into glory, can empathise with our pain. Because he has died a human death he has transformed death itself. In undergoing the worst that human beings do to one another and uttering words of forgiveness he has opened the way to breaking out of the deadly cycle of revenge.

For these reasons we dare to call today, the day on which we murdered the man who is God, Good.