If Good Friday represented mankind’s verdict on Jesus and his claims, Easter provides us with God’s verdict. It was startling and perplexing then and it is startling and perplexing now: The Crucified Lives. The witnesses to the Resurrection were, perhaps, more startled by the fact of resurrected life while we later Christians are more perplexed, still, by the fact that Jesus was crucified. But, this is the Easter proclamation: The Crucified Lives! Not just anyone triumphed over death, but the one who was crucified. The one whom mankind killed, he has been raised up.
Good Friday confirmed that Jesus was, as charged, a blasphemer and an imposter. The man who had claimed such intimacy with God, who had dared to forgive sins in God’s name, that man was abandoned by God to an ignominious death. From the Cross, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” but God did not come down and save his own. The most frightening thing about death is its abysmal loneliness, and Jesus died utterly alone, abandoned by his disciples and even by his God. And, because Jesus’ claims of divine sonship were directly contrary to the beliefs by which his society organized itself, he was not just wrong, but criminally wrong, a threat to be exterminated. And so, he was crucified.
The misery and loneliness of Good Friday were real. But, now, in the light of Easter, the event of Jesus’ death looks entirely different. God did not reject the one who was rejected but highly exalted him. The blasphemer, the imposter, is shown to have been true and right, confirmed as the Son of God by God, not by man. And, by sharing in the totality of man’s life, including death, Jesus has conquered life in its entirety. His death is the death of death and hell’s destruction. His participation in suffering ennobles all of our human sufferings, showing us how they can draw us closer to God, not alienate us from Him. Jesus’ surrender unto the Father shows us how frightening and demanding can be the words Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done.”
Martin Luther believed that the crucifixion represented all that was wrong and evil and ugly about the world because it was the rejection of God. But, Hans Urs von Bathasar countered that the crucifixion, seen in the light of Easter, is the very form of the beautiful, that God’s grace always wears a veil of suffering when surrounded by sin and that the Christian is called to recognize the Gospel as the complete vindication of suffering love. “For either the character of Christian revelation is seen and grasped in its entirety as the glorification of absolute love by itself, or it is not perceived at all,” Balthasar wrote.
Balthasar would often give retreats to priests and he would finish with the Gospel of John, including the reading we heard at Mass Easter Sunday morning. Balthasar would note that it is the disciple whom Jesus loved who outruns Peter and gets to the tomb first, but then waits for Peter to catch up and enter the tomb first. For Balthasar, this tells us something important about the life of the Church, that the church of love, represented by the disciple whom Jesus loved always outruns the church of authority, represented by Peter, although the church of love must often stop and wait and even defer to the church of authority. Balthasar would go on to recall the post-Paschal scene in the Gospel of John in which Peter grows envious of the beloved disciple and asks Jesus what will happen to him. “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” Jesus tells Peter. Balthasar concluded: “It is not [Peter’s] business to know exactly where the boundaries between the official Church and the Church of love are to be found….The last thing said to the servant Peter, the last word of the Lord in the Gospel, is the watchword to the Church and theology in every age: ‘What is that to you?’” The next time someone breezily dismisses Balthasar as a mere conservative theologian, ask them about this passage.
Christos Aneste. Alithos aneste. Christ is risen. He is truly risen. This is the basis of our faith. The world that rejected Jesus and crucified him is not, in turn, rejected by God. It is redeemed. And the work of redemption now falls to us. It is glorious work and it is easy to spot. Everytime we witness to the suffering love of the crucified who lives, that work is evident. We look to Easter and we see Good Friday. We look to Good Friday and now we see Easter. They are now linked, the very bond between life and death, and between heaven and earth, between God and man. The crucified lives.