I was at a theology symposium this weekend and received some wonderful insights. Pages and pages of them, scribbled in indecipherable script! I will share one here. I wrote this after one of the presentations when I had a few minutes to think it all through. Here it is:
John’s Gospel begins with a prologue (1:1-18) that sets a startling backdrop for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Unlike the other Gospels, it does not begin in Nazareth or Judea, but begins by taking the reader back to ultimate “beginning,” before creation, opening with the first (Greek) words of Genesis, “In the beginning…” Jesus of Nazareth, we discover in the prologue, is the “Word” that God spoke in the beginning when He said, “let there be light.” That Word, who is God with the Father (1:1), pre-existing creation as eternal with the Father, and through whom all things were made (1:2), has now become “flesh” and pitched his tent (eskēnōsen) among us (1:14).
This makes Jesus the Alpha, the origin, archetype and beginning of all things. But He is also the Omega, the goal, fulfillment and end of all things. He has come into a world created through Him – the world we have sin-wrecked – in order to liberate it from the bonds of corruption and death, re-creating it by restoring it to its original capacity to receive God (capax Dei) as a bride receives her bridegroom.
But here’s the truly amazing new insight I received. At the Last Supper (13-17) Jesus reveals the goal of all creation – the sharing of divine agape-caritas-love with humanity – and then brings it to fulfillment. Washing feet, commanding love, promising the Spirit, fulfilling the Passover by feeding humanity with His broken Fresh and spilled Blood while asking the Father to admit us into the threefold intimacy of Their eternal Triune communion.
In all of this He is rendering us capable of loving as He loves, “to the end” (13:1) with a self-sacrificing servant love precisely because He has made accessible to us the whole of God’s life which is love.
From the beginning, this and this alone was the true end and purpose of God calling all things from non-existence into being: Man is made capable of God because God has become man.
But here’s the super-duper cool part. On the cross as He’s dying, Jesus says something striking for its stark simplicity – it’s a free-floating verb: “It has been finished” (Tetelestai). What has been finished? Creation! The beginning has achieved its end. In fact, the “end” has already come. Everything from here on out is merely an extension of the end of creation into time. Christus vincit! The God-Man has achieved – “on behalf of all and for all” – in fullest measure possibe the original vocation of humanity: to return the gift of creation back to the Father in the form of a total self-sacrificing gift of love. Now we are invited to join in that fulfillment and allow it to define us.
This is why the Eucharist is a foretaste of the End, of eternal life, of the new creation, because in it is the perfect, total act of both divine and human selfless, sacrificial love — paschal love. And those of us who co-celebrate the Eucharist with Christ, eating the Flesh and drinking the Blood of God-is-love, receive a foretaste and promise of the Age to Come which, even now, forms in us an ever-more perfect love. Here Aquinas’ point that the primary effect of receiving Communion is an increase in charity makes marvelous sense. And the gravity and implications of the Christian vocation to become divine love in the world are revolutionary. The folly of cruciform love conquers all. Amor vincit omnia!
In Christ on the cross, humanity, created in the image of eternal self-wasting Love, brings to perfection the longing of the whole cosmos to share in the liberty of self-wasting love (Romans 8:21 – what else is the freedom of God’s children than love?).
This, it seems to me, is yet another reason why Jesus does not heal the five wounds in His resurrection, because they stand forever as icons of this immutable truth that has been stamped by His Pasch into every quark in the cosmos.
This gives me a fresh vantage on Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s contention that martyrdom – laying down one’s life out of love for the glory of God and the neighbor’s wellbeing – is the *normative* state of Christian life. All claims to Christian authenticity must derive from the martyr’s witness of love to-the-end. The martyr is a living profession of the Shema: love with all your heart, soul, mind, strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). And with the whole of one’s body (Romans 12:1).
All of one’s life is meant to be a progressive self-emptying of love in service to others. Only with this logic in mind could St Therese’s comment make any sense: “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
I had a philosophy professor at back in the 1980’s who was also a devout Jew. One day in our philosophy of nature class, he said: “When you look at the precise balance of innumerable factors that had to be in place for life – and man – to appear, it’s awe inspiring. The appearance of man seems to be the universe’s desire to reflect back on itself and say to someone, “thank you.”
But more, in Christ, the universe turned back to its Origin and, after saying “thank you,” added: “I love you.”
That’s the gist of the insight.