The Last Part of my Lenten Series

…over at The Catholic Weekly, “Good Friday and Easter”:

Throughout Lent, we have been observing the ancient Jewish acts of piety—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—that passed into the Christian Tradition and were transformed by that Tradition’s encounter with the incarnate, crucified, and risen Son of God.

Now we come to the great mystery of the Triduum and to the universe-remaking event it commemorates and makes present.

I have taken a lot of pains over the past forty days to stress that the Lenten disciplines are not ordered toward the “Easter Holiday”.  That is, we did not give alms, pray, and fast for the sake of a nice Sunday dinner with family, chocolate eggs, and some fancy clothes.

We did these things to conform ourselves to the image and likeness of Jesus who fulfilled them completely as the sun went dark looking down from heaven on its horse-whipped and crucified Creator.

For Jesus fulfils completely the meaning and purpose of the Lenten disciplines as he lives them out perfectly in going to the Cross.

As Paul puts it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And so, in fulfilment of the discipline of almsgiving, Paul tells us, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  And he adds that Christ “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).  For the truest almsgiving is not merely a gift of time, talent, or treasure, but the gift of one’s very self.  And that is what Jesus gave on the Cross: his entire self.

That gift of self was an act of prayer, an excruciating one—literally–since it was offered ex crucio, from the torture of the Cross.  Jesus’ prayers from the Cross were, of course, not his only prayers, but were rather the culminating prayers of self-offering to his Father, for our sake, that had constituted his entire lifetime of prayer. His final prayer—“Tetelestai!”—is a cry, not of despair, but of victory.  It encompasses several meanings: “It is finished!”, “It is accomplished!”, “The Work is Complete!”, “It is consummated!” 

That prayer is accompanied by the most radical fasting in history: a fast not just from food after the Last Supper, but from all the consolations of the felt presence of God in the utter abandonment of the Son to all the wretched sin, madness, dysfunction, spite, and black, satanic malice of which our species is capable.  And it is an expression of final resolute hope in the Father that carries Jesus (and us) with him through the blackest depths of “My God, My God, why have you forsake me?” to the prayer “Into your hands I commend my spirit”. For it must be remembered that the horrors of the Passion are 100% our idea.  God gives his Son to us in love and the Son obeys him in love, knowing what our depraved race will do to him.  Jesus does not die to save us from his Father. He dies to save us from ourselves.  The torture and death of the Son of God are our sole contribution to the drama of the Passion.  God’s contribution is to willingly take it, allow it all to wash over him, let it soak into his flesh and bones like oil, let it kill him in agony—and so take our depraved humanity with him down to the grave in the ultimate act of self-denying love.

But he does not stay there. In his Resurrection, Jesus brings that humanity up from death in a glorious and transformed body, and brings that divinized humanity with him to Heaven, whence he will return on the Last Day to raise all the dead and “change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21).

That is why he gives the fruits of all his alms, prayer and fasting in the great feast of the Eucharist: his body, blood, soul, and divinity that readies us to be participants in his Risen life in the age to come.

Next time, we begin looking at that Resurrection and all its cosmic implications.


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