Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Christ the Victim
I was recently swapping Body & Blood comments with a cordial non-Catholic Christian. One of the Catholic concepts he took exception to was the presentation of Christ at Mass as a victim rather than triumphing over Death and Sin. One might express the difference as the Crucified Christ vs. the empty cross of the Risen Christ. Or note that Jesus died once as a victim 2,000 years ago, but now "is seated at the right hand of the Father," as the Creed says, borrowing from Ephesians, "he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places..."
So as usual, I'm in debt to to my Separated Brethren for prompting me to examine more closely an aspect of Catholicism, that I, the posterchild of Cradle Catholics, had not reflected on before. I'm determined not to discuss the Eucharist in general, but stick to the victim business.
First let's look at the Big Picture:
1. In Eden there was no sin; Man, body and soul, lived in perfect friendship with God.
2. Due to sin, Man was thrown out of Eden. Body and soul became separable; death was the inevitable consequence. Perfect friendship with God was no longer possible.
3. Jesus, uniquely Man and God, atoned for all Man's sins, thus allowing Man's Soul, but not his Body, to once again enjoy perfect friendship with God.
4. After the Second Coming, when Jesus returns, Man will once again, body and soul, live in perfect friendship with God in the New Jerusalem. I expect this to be better than Eden, because in Eden God had no body. God had some kind of physical presence it seems, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day"; but not like Jesus, who could be seen, touched, heard, smelled, kissed, flogged, spat on and crucified.
So now we're in Phase 3, a good place to be, but not the best place. We know from Revelations that in Phase 3 Heavenly Worship, the "Lamb which has been slain" continually stands before the Throne. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as John proclaimed him to be, is going to stand there before the Throne as the slain Victim as long as we are in Phase 3. Why? Because we are all still sinning in Phase 3...at least, I still sin. So continual sin on Earth in space-time means the atoning Victim is continually presenting himself before the Father in heaven, in the eternal present where God exists outside of his creation. "But," you may say, "Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father." So which is it? Favored Son, or Slain Lamb? Well, being Catholic, I can say: both, and neither cancels out the other. OK...but just because this Victim business is going on beyond our senses in heaven doesn't mean we have to dwell on it here, right? Umm, no. When Jesus "ascended to the Father" 40 days after Easter, did he go up spiritually...or physically? And you say, "both." Right. So Jesus is somewhere right now, both Body and Divine Spirit. And in Revelation's description of the Heavenly Worship, he's not triumphant, but the slain victim. So if we're going to worship together on Sunday, the Sabbath of the New Covenant, it would behoove us to be in harmony with the worship everyone in heaven is participating in, which features Christ as Victim.
Now, recall that after Jesus died and rose again on Sunday, Thomas wasn't persuaded until a week later that it was true by sticking his fingers into Him (and the 6th grade girls say: eww!). This reminds us that the Risen Jesus still bore the marks of his Victimhood. Odd that Jesus wasn't restored to a pre-Eden sort of body freed from every consequence of sin, but nooo, after eight days He's still bearing all those wounds, which apparently haven't even closed up, much less disappeared. So it's safe to assume that 32 days later (8 + 32 = 40) Jesus ascended, Body and Soul, to heaven with all those gashes still unhealed. This dovetails with John seeing Him in heaven as a slain Lamb: still doing the living Victim thing there, too.
But didn't Jesus triumph over Death & Sin on Easter? Yes, but Jesus' resurrection was pretty modest: he comes out of the tomb, scares some sleeping soldiers, and keeps a very low profile for the next 40 days, then poofs off to heaven at the drop of a hat (see Transition & Ascension). Compared to his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or the Transfiguration, there's a huge difference. The Resurrected Jesus made a very unassuming return to the land of the living.
As we know, Jesus is continually offering atonement for our sins in Phase 3: he may be spiritually free from the consequences of Sin, but not physically, based on his open-wound encounter with Thomas, and his slain-Lamb appearance in Heaven. Until Jesus returns in triumph there's no complete restoration of his, or anyone's, Body & Soul to an Eden-like, preternatural, 'perfect' state. But why not?
Because Jesus is in the transitional Phase 3 just as we are, including those of us whose souls are in heaven. Sin still keeps the saints' bodies (well, most of them) in the ground, 'eaten of worms'. But haven't the saints triumphed over Death & Sin? Yes...but not completely. The saints won't be completely, perfectly triumphant until their souls are reunited with their bodies. And because Jesus is one of us, he retains his wounded, sin-consequenced body as long as the saints do. He gets his perfected body when we get ours. I think that's because he loves us, and in solidarity with the cloud of witnesses waits with them for that body'n'soul reunification. And when will that be?
That's in Phase 4, the Second Coming, when Jesus will return to Earth in triumph. Jesus himself describes it by quoting Daniel: "And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory."
Why triumph at that point in the future, and not at Easter? Because after Easter we kept right on sinning; but there will be no more sin after the Second Coming: the triumph will be complete. With no sin, there's no need for the atoning presentation of a Slain Lamb. And there'll be no reason for any saved soul not to be reunited with its formerly sin-flawed, but now perfected, body. And when the saved get their sin-free bodies, I expect Jesus' body will then, and not sooner, shed all its sin-marks as well. That will be the best time to worship a triumphant Jesus: when His victory over sin is complete, body and soul.
And in the meantime, like the heavenly hosts, we give our attention each Sunday to the Victim.
BTW, I'm not completely settled on this line of thinking, so I'm looking for reactions.