- Seamus Heaney
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shoreIs reachable from here
On Good Friday afternoon, and continuing into Holy Saturday, there is a focus on the dead Christ on the Cross. We look at him as if he were still the suffering and dying one. It is important, however, to realise that he is not now the suffering and dying one. Now he is he living one. He appears to his own, saying:
I am the one who lives
once I was dead,
now, I am alive forever.
I am the living one for ever and ever,
I stand in your midst.
We tend not to believe him. We do tend to hold him in our hearts as if he were still suffering and dying on his cross. To keep on doing that is equivalent to denying his resurrection. He is not still on his cross. He is not still negotiating death by crucifixion. He is ALIVE NOW…ALWAYS…. Once he was dead, yes, he was, but could we say, once upon a time, and only once….We need tonight to fix our hearts and our love on him as the Risen, Living One, because that is the only one he is now…He was there on Friday, but this is Sunday, it will always be Sunday….
At the same time, there is a way – in this time of resurrection – still to look on the dead body of Jesus on the cross. In the risen one, there is peace. In the dead body on the cross, there is a beautiful symbol of peace, of the peace of resurrection. It is the peace of the one who has lived through death into life, through the cross into the Light of God.
In that symbol, in that peaceful dead body still imagined on the cross, the signs of death have become signs of resurrection. It is the peace of the one who has lived through death into resurrection. His new life makes it irrelevant for us to try to identify with his dying. We are asked by Him now, prematurely as it might seem to us, to identify with his rising!
Paul, in perhaps his best use of words, spoke of the living, risen, one, as the CHRISTOS ESTAUROMENOS (Christ in a continuing state of crucifriedness). It is a continuing present participle. It is the Risen One, in the state into which crucifixion has taken him, and keeps on placing him, eternally. But Paul, may I say with deference, might have gone one word further. That state is better called PEACE (EIRENE).
Something has changed in death itself. It is no longer the end of it all. It is just the phase he had to go through to enter permanently into this life. In that sense, he holds the keys to death and to the underworld that death seems to imply. He has triumphed over death’s absoluteness. He has demonstrated what death really is – the way into risen life. Crucifixion, showing us the peace of a stilled body, is the wrong word. It is rather an eternalisation of that peace, in a life that is forever.
Yes, there are two aspects in dying. One is aggressive, the other is acceptive. In his dying the two have been present, but have been reconciled, and united, and the harmony shows in his body, in his dead body, in his risen body.
I think he has done that for our own dying, too. He has not changed death in the abstract. He has changed all real dying, mine, and yours. He has lived into and through our dying, and turned it into our rising, in and with him. This makes it irrevelant to remain fixated endlessly on his dying….it allows us, indeed asks of us, to accept our own different dying and discover in it his eternally valid path into his new aliveness. There is no burden on us to feel as we imagined he did on his cross. That onus is no longer there. There is just a sense of being overwhelmed by and into new life.
His wounds are wounds no more. They are entrances, for us, into him.
He recognises our hesitations. He knows we are not really resistant, we are just startled and remain amazed. He unlocks our hearts for resurrection. Love for him is a mutual thing, between two living persons, him and us.
The wounds have changed. Paul did not grasp it all in ‘christos estauromenos’. He is that, but he is more than that. He changed death. He changed what ‘being crucified’ means…in him and in us. It is being opened out. It is ….
He is even in a hurry to convince us, and to share his new life with us.