Life is lived between death and the hope to beat it. When the walls close in it’s always the impending power of death tapping, whispering, and on rare occasions, pounding on our shoulder. Death doesn’t need to shout. Death doesn’t need to strut. Every time we lose something, something we really cling to, death smiles. Whether it’s a job, a friend, a pet, a spouse, a child, a hope or a dream, when we lose it it’s as if death callously makes the maching chalkboard motion in the air “score one more for my team”.
The only hope in the face of such overwhelming and unmatched odds is the death of God.
On this Holy Saturday morning I spent some time re-reading sections of Alan Lewis’s masterful book on the subject. This quote was worth the time spent:
…Easter Saturday determines not only how we handle our mortality as such, whether we are cowardly or courageous in the face of termination; it is also the measure of our maturity as individuals anywhere upon life’s spectrum. To be mature is not just to live authentically with decay, disease, and bodily death, but to be a person who at any age or stage has died already and so has been raised to life anew, and who keeps growing, through every age and stage, by learning more deeply how to die each day.
Reading more in Volume IV of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, in part 2. There Barth talks about the way that the Church is part of the totus Christus, or the whole Christ. It is popular today to talk about the Church as the extension of the Incarnation. Barth denies this, but doesn’t shy away for talking about the way the Church is included in Christ:
Similarly the formula ἐν (Ἰησοῦ) Χριστῷ*, which is so common in the Pauline Epistles, indicates the place or sphere in which (determined absolutely by it) there takes place the divine working, creating and endowing which moves the apostle and his communities, and also the divine revealing, questioning, inviting and demanding, and the corresponding human thanking and thinking and speaking and believing and obeying. The ἐν Χριστῷ* denotes the place where the sancta* are proffered and the sancti* are engaged in the realisation of their communio* with them and therefore with one another. Jesus Christ is, and in His being the apostles and communities are. For this reason, directly or indirectly everything that is said about the being of Jesus Christ can be only an explication of the being of Jesus Christ, and everything that is said about the being of Jesus Christ applies directly or indirectly to the being of Christians. A single presupposition emerges, and for Paul and His communities this is not a hypothesis or theory (and therefore not a problem); in the light of Easter, and in a present because renewed confrontation with the revelation of Easter Day, it is as self-evident as the air which they breathe. For this presupposition is simply the fact that the crucified Jesus Christ lives. But He lives—and this is now the decisive point—as the totus Christus*. And this means that, although He lives also and primarily as the exalted Son of Man, at the right hand of the Father, in the hiddenness of God (with the life of Christians), at an inaccessible height above the world and the community, He does not live only there but lives too (in the power of His Holy Spirit poured out from there and working here) on earth and in world history, in the little communities at Thessalonica and Corinth and Philippi, in Galatia and at Rome. He does not live primarily in their knowledge and faith and prayer and confession, or in their Christian being, but as the place in which all this can and may and must and will happen, in which they are Christians; as the air which they breathe, the ground on which they stand and walk. As we are told in Jn. 15:4f., they have no being or life apart from Him, just as the branches are nothing apart from the vine but can only wither and be burned: “Without me ye can do nothing.” But they need not try to do anything without Him. He is the vine, and they are the branches.
In Unless You Become Like This Child, von Balthasar reflects upon meaning and nature of the childhood of Jesus. He notes an evident tension that arises: How is it that the eternal Son of the Father sent for us and our salvation can learn and develop a sense of vocation as the son of Mary? He explains:
It may be difficult for us to bring both things into harmony: on the one hand, the presence, from the beginning, of the full mission in the small Child, who can envision it in its totality in a genuine, even if childlike, manner; on the other hand, the human process of maturing ever deeper understanding of this totality, until the total mission is obtained,within the adult human consciousness, the plenitude that will allow its autonomous responsible execution. Actually, it is at this final point the real difficulty begins. How can this assumption of full, personal responsibility for what one does and decides to do be reconcilable with the abiding childlike attitude toward the Father that makes Jesus say in John’s Gospel: “The Son can do nothing on his own initiative; he does only what he sees the Father doing (Jn 5:19)? “He who sent me present with me, and has not left me alone: for I always do what is pleasing to him.” (8:29) “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me… for I do not speak on my own authority.” (12:44,49). And yet: “My testimony is valid, even though I do bear witness about myself; because I know where I come from, and where I am going.” (8:14)… The Son, then, as child, has his room for play, and as the wisdom of God he can “play in his presence continually, play throughout the wide earth” (Prov 8:30f.). But it is the Father’s good pleasure that wholly fills this room for play, so that the Son always does what pleases the Father and “exactly fulfills his command.”
At our church’s weekly bible study we were discussing the significance of the Resurrection. It was a great conversation. I wish I had re-read a piece by Richard Gaffin beforehand. Here’s a nice passage from his essay entitled “Redemption and Resurrection”. Particularly nice is Gaffin’s emphasis that Christ didn’t rise but was raised from the dead:
In view, further, is Christ’s resurrection as an innately eschatological event. In fact, as much as any, it is the key inaugurating event of eschatology, the dawn of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), the arrival of the age to come (Rom. 12:2; Gal. 1:4). It is not an isolated event in the past, but, in having occurred in the past, it belongs to the future consummation and from that future has entered history. In Christ’s resurrection the resurrection-harvest at the end of history is already visible. Pressed, if present, say, at a modern-day prophecy conference, as to when the event of bodily resurrection for believers will take place, the first thing the apostle would probably want to say is, it has already begun!
The emphasis on Christ as the first-fruits of resurrection points out that, for Paul, the primary significance of Christ’s resurrection lies in what he and believers have in common, not in the profound difference between them; the accent falls not on his true deity but on his genuine humanity. The Resurrection, as we will presently note in more detail, is not so much an especially evident display or powerful proof of Christ’s divine nature as it is the powerful transformation of his human nature.
This emphasis is confirmed in an implicit but pervasive fashion by Paul’s numerous references, without elaboration, to the simple fact of the Resurrection . These undeveloped statements display a consistent, unmistakable pattern: 1) God in his specific identity as the Father raises Jesus from the dead (Gal. 1:1, 2) Jesus is passive in his resurrection. This viewpoint is held without exception, so far as I can see. Nowhere does Paul teach that Christ was active in or contributed to his resurrection, much less that he raised himself; Jesus did not rise, but was raised from the dead. The stress everywhere is on the creative power and action of the Father, of which Christ is the recipient.
I came across this passage today while reading an abridged version of Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology.
One fact about the Lord’s incarnation encouraged me to take this step of working from an “analogia fidei” to an “analogia entis“, from a man believed in by faith to be normal, to the problems of being in men as we find them now. This was the suprising fact, that although the ‘kenosis’, or ‘humbling’ involved our Lord in the laying aside of kingship and much else besides, this did not include the ultimate kenosis of being born in a brothel from a sluttish woman who would bring him up to know the seamy side of infancy. Tradition affirms the special holiness and godliness of the blessed Virgin Mary. From this it is not unreasonable to infer that God the Father was making provision for his Son’s human spirit to come to ‘being’ and ‘well being’ by response to a woman whose character was like his own, in loving kindness, holiness and graciousness. Can we then regard the Godlike mothering of Jesus Christ as a normal pattern and expect to find that divergences from it in the direction of unloving or unGodlike behaviour towards the child will cause disturbances and distortions of the nascent spirit within the foundation years? Indeed, this is so. As my psychiatric colleagues and I have spent many hours with patients reliving the first year, this dynamic cycle of interpersonal relationships provided a better model of a normal ontological matrix than any other hypothesis we had encountered.
Lake is making a move that flows from the assumptions of both Barth and Schleiermacher. We don’t consider what human being is and then look to Jesus seeking to subsequently understand him in light of our experience. Rather we look first to Jesus as the normative pattern for human existence, seeking subsequently to understand ourselves and our experience in light of his.
Barth clearly spells out the relationship between the mystery of the Incarnation and the sign that attests it:
The man Jesus of Nazareth is not the true Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. On the contrary, because He is the true Son of God and because this is an inconceivable mystery intended to be acknowledged as such, therefore He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. And because He is thus conceived and born, He has to be recognised and acknowledged as the One He is and in the mystery in which He is the One He is…In the understanding of Scripture and Church doctrine there is neither a physical nor, as Biedermann would have it, a “religious” Son of God, but only the one eternal, if you like, “metaphysical” Son, who becomes a man like us in the mystery of Christmas and yet is and continues to be the eternal Son of God. As a sign of this mystery there is the miracle: conceptus de Spiritu sancto…The mystery does not rest upon the miracle. The miracle rests upon the mystery. The miracle bears witness to the mystery, and the mystery is attested by the miracle.
Perhaps the miracle points us to part of the mystery which is psychological in nature, making sense of how Jesus can be really human and thoroughly immersed in a web of relatedness utterly conditioned by sin and brokenness, and yet be a vision of wholeness and holiness.