“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
“3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis i, 1 – 3).
“1 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis ii, 2 – 3).
44 Now it was[l] about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 Then the sun was darkened,[m] and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, “into Your hands I commit My spirit”‘[n]” (St. Luke, xxiii, 44 – 46b).
“51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (St. Matthew xxvii, 51 – 52).
“28 After this, Jesus, knowing[e] that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit…
“33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (St. John xix, 28 – 30, 33 – 35).
“1 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door,[a] and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men” (St. Matthew, xxi, 1 – 4).
“1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” ‘ 8 Then they remembered his words” (St. Luke xxiv, 1 – 8).
“17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (Second Epistle to the Corinthians v, 17).
“‘3b Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’
“5 Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me,[b] ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful'” (Revelation xxi, 3b – 5).
+ + +
Darkness. Chaos. Spirit. Water. A gleaming, ineffable Light. And all things are made new.
Here Creation is recapitulated.
Here is astounding simultaneity, a collapsing of time: Christ finishes his work and enters His rest on the seventh day, for already the sun has been darkened. According to Jewish reckoning, the Sabbath has begun.
Here the dark contagion of sin, the unyielding disordered soul of man, and his formless, misshapen heart have been put to death.
Here, in death, the Incarnate God-Man has emptied Himself. This is kenosis, the act of self-dispensation. Being God, He does not consider equality with God something to be grasped. So He doesn’t grasp. He lets go, and hands over His Spirit for all mankind. For you.
Here the Spirit hovers once more over water — the water from the spear-riven side of God.
Here great tumult once more ensues as God separates Life from Death, His expiration summoning the dead from the ground itself. The saints, long dead, burst forth from their earthen graves. Once again, the breath of God quickens the dust into men, made in His image.
Remember, it is dark. Very dark. And Christ is dead, forsaken by God the Father with an eternal, infinite forsakenness. He is alone. He is dead.
How can this be?
How can He Who is Himself God die?
It is a Mystery. We cannot know how. Such knowledge is high; we cannot attain it.
But there is something to which we might cling and upon which we might do well to meditate. Something which I do not think it too bold to say is as much the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (the article by which the Church stands or falls) as justification sola fide, for indeed, one could argue that the two are coterminous:
Finitum capax finitum. The finite is capable of the infinite. If not, so much for our salvation.
It was Ulrich von Zwingli’s infamous non which forever clove any hope of communion between the Protestants and the Lutherans. Finitum non capax infinitum. “The finite is not capable of the infinite,” Zwingli said. Christ’s body cannot contain His Godhead. In Zwingli’s (and later Calvin’s) repristinated Nestorianism, the Human Nature and the Divine Nature are in perpetual contact in the man Jesus, but they are not united, each in its own fullness, in Him. Because the finite cannot contain the infinite.
According to this same woeful thinking, neither can consecrated bread be the Body of Christ. For finite bread cannot contain, express, or otherwise localize Christ in a physical, bodily way. (One wonders, though, if there’s a double regression here: if there’s nothing special about Christ’s Body, why does it matter that bread can’t be…His Body?) In the impoverished supper of the sectarians one is left with a mere analogy of salvation, symbolically enacted. The Words of Institution become little more than an elegy memorializing an absent friend. As Fr. Charles is wont to say, the Real Presence is exchanged for the Real Absence. Because — it is claimed — the finite cannot contain the infinite.
Yet Christ endures all of the suffering and pain of Hell on the cross. He endures the punishment for man’s sin: being forsaken by God. In St. Anselm’s parlance, an infinite punishment for an infinite transgression. Blessed be God.
Can it be that Christ endured eternal damnation (and when it comes to damnation, I know of no other kind — sorry Trajan and Falconilla) in time? How can this be?
How can Christ suffer an infinite punishment in a finite way, i.e., how can Christ be forsaken by the Father and die, and then…rise? Can it be that the finite can contain — absorb, even — the infinite?
No, not categorically. Generally, no. But if the finite is the God-Man, then yes.
This has only happened once. Once for all. It will never happen again.
Why, oh why does it come as a surprise to us that God can do something that we not only cannot do ourselves, but cannot even understand? Isn’t this the whole essence of salvation? God doing something that we cannot do? The infinite making Himself finite? The fully Human, fully Divine infinite finite then taking on the infinite punishment for an infinite transgression? Out of His infinite Love?
With God, all things are possible. Because he is the Creator of all things. He’s God. We may protest that God can’t be Man, that bread can’t be Christ’s Body. But if we do this we might as well lay the logical axe to the root of the Tree of Life. For although none of the foregoing claims make sense in the way that we would like them to, neither does creation ex nihilo, nor does salvation ex nihilo (my little name for justification sola fide). But every time we try to swing our little logical hatchets we realize that God has hedged us behind and before, and laid His hand upon us (Psalm 139). “Stop doubting — just believe.”
His hand. God has hands. They look like your hands, but they have nail-holes in them.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is high, we cannot attain it (Psalm 139). We cannot imagine, let alone contemplate, the Form of Goodness. We cannot intuit its Essence. We cannot scale Mt. Olympus.
But God, knowing our frame and remembering that we are dust, descends to us. As He wills. In ways so radically incarnate and fleshly, in ways that are so much our ways, that we reject Him. Because He is less esoteric than we expected.
He is a man. Jesus Christ.
That is why this Friday is Good.