A homily for Passion Sunday
Picture an egg timer. The sand in the top chamber is time and space before the Christ event. People are reliant on ‘the law’ and on rules, ticking boxes to get details right. It’s a monochrome world where the punishment fits the crime, where earthquakes signify the anger of the God(s), where illness is viewed as a consequence of transgressions, where people use force to assume abusive positions of power and control.
The sand enters the part of the upper chamber with sloping sides. Imagine Gabriel’s visit to Mary—that is, the Incarnation—happening as the chamber narrows. Imagine that the Nativity, the life of Jesus, the Passion, as the chamber becomes more constricted.
Imagine that the orifice between the two chambers is the death on the cross. Imagine that the time spent by the sand passing through that orifice is Jesus in the tomb and the harrowing of hell.
The sand enters the lower chamber. As the chamber widens out we have Ascension and Pentecost. If at the moment of crucifixion Christ becomes unrestricted by locality, then at the Ascension he is unrestricted by space, and at Pentecost by time. Cosmic Christ. The lower chamber becomes infinitely big, multicoloured, completely unconstricted. A wide place.
Now turn the egg timer upside down, and instead of thinking of sand falling from top to bottom, think now of it passing from bottom to top. Ascending. At the Ascension our humanity is lifted to the Divine. Made like him, like him we rise (Charles Wesley). The ascension is the vital part of the story, the resurrection merely part of it. Through the Ascension, man approaches the Divine. ‘God the Logos became what we are, in order that we may become what he himself is’ (Irenaeus).
Incarnation to Pentecost, the Christ-event, is all one, indivisible into sections. Just as for any one of us birth, growth, adolescence, prime, maturity and senility merge inseparably into one another, so also for the Christ event.
Maybe this egg timer doesn’t work for you. Try a cosmic image with the universe contracting down into a black hole, Golgotha, then bursting forth into a new colourful glorious renewed and resurrected universe. Imagine everything before Christ being concentrated into him in the black hole, and taken at the moment of crucifixion into a new world. ‘When the eternal word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, he also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity. Christ is himself the bridge between time and eternity … In the Word incarnate, who remains forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete’ (Ratzinger).
Or, if that doesn’t work either, then try bathos. Think of Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins jumping through a dull London pavement into a brightly coloured new world where everything is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. No, maybe not.
Is this true? Is it merely poetry, or myth, or allegory? It’s all these things—without the ‘merely’.
It’s not just something that happened 2000 years ago. It happens every day of our lives. It happens every time the penny drops about a situation that has troubled us. It happens every time we realize that we need to reassess priorities, to think again. it happens when circumstances force us to change direction, when we realize that we are at the end of a road, when we are at the end of our tether (Blessed are the poor in spirit), and that giving up what we once held dear will release us to possibilities as yet undreamed of. When we realize that the seed must die in order to flower. When, in psychological terms, we let egotistic self give way to selflessness. When I sacrifice ‘all the vain things that charm me most’, I move into new, more open, territory.
If we want to see Jesus then we must look this death full in the face. If we refuse to acknowledge the reality of death, we refuse to see Jesus. Confronting these deaths is some of the most difficult work we ever do. It is soul troubling. It is sweat inducing, headache making, wringing out Gethsemane work. But only then can the balloon begin to ascend, and the imagination take flight.
Resurrection as imagination. Compassion, enjoyment and fun begin to replace seriousness, separateness and superiority. Caterpillar to butterfly. Larva to imago.
What died on the cross? Self.
Union with God is a mystery that is worked out in human persons. The personal character of a human being who has entered on the way of union is never impaired, even though he renounces his own will and his natural inclinations. This is how the human personality comes to its full realization in grace. (St Isaac)