THE CROSS AND EASTER
THE CROSS OF THE RISEN CHRIST WITH ALL OF HIS WOUNDS,
THE RESURRECTION OF THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST WITH ALL OF HIS LIGHT
During the great week of our faith – Holy Week – and during the triduum in particular, as believers in Christ we are provoked to keep together the two faces of a single event: the Cross and Easter, the cross of the Risen Christ with all of his wounds, the resurrection of the Crucified Christ with all of his light. To paraphrase Kant: ‘The Cross without the resurrection is blind; the resurrection without the cross is empty’.
A loser of the worst kind. So much a failure that he was put on the gallows as an act of infamy and as a warning to those who would come after: to all of those who, in his name, would take the risk of the arduous adventure of Truth.
On the Cross: contempt, abuse; manifest disgust, public scorn, national-popular shame. Why, therefore, exalt him, why carry it – the Cross – around, beat one’s chest and chant songs? Why acclaim a loser? What do we mean by: ‘Hail, Holy Cross, you bore the Redeemer, every tongue and every heart sing glory, praise and honour to you’?
The Cross was not the end credit of that inimitable story of love: after the Cross of Friday, there was the unbounded silence of Saturday and the surprising surprise of Sunday. That sepulchre found empty that became the first reason for the greatness of Mary, that of Nazareth: bearing the weight of being beneath the Cross won her the right to look death in the face – which from that day onwards became the most unbearable cross – and mock it together with the Son, her Risen Christ: ‘Death where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?’ (1Cor 15:55). Where, Cross, is your arrogance?
That cross is not beautiful in itself: it is made of wood, dirty with blood, pierced by lies; gallows of the shameful. It is wood that is worth nothing!
That wood has a value only because it hosted mocked Love. Like that old sheet stained in blood: its price is ludicrous, they will have paid a few pennies or a little more for it. And yet its value has become inestimable because it covered the King for a handful of hours. No object has a value in itself: what endows it with fame, glory and wastage is the greatness and the holiness of he who wears it.
Such was the case with that wood: it was worth almost nothing, it became the universal symbol of mad Love. What the Gospel colours with exaggeration: ‘God SO loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son’. It did not write ‘God loved the world’. It allows itself the luxury of an exaggeration’ (with an ADVERB: SO): ‘so loved the world’.
The three victims went up together on the stools of the gallows. Three necks were placed inside hoods at the same time. ‘Long live freedom!’, shouted the two adults. But the boy remained silent. ‘Where is God, where is He?’, someone behind me asked . On a sign from the commander of the field, the three stools were knocked over…The march in front of the gallows began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their bluish tongues hung down swollen. But the third rope was still moving; so light, the boy was still alive…Hanging there for more than half an hour, struggling between life and death, dying a slow death before our very eyes. And we had to look him carefully in the face. He was still alive when I passed by. His tongue was still pink, his eyes were not yet glassy. Behind me I heard the same person as before ask: ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice inside me answer him: ‘Where is he? There he is, hanging on those gallows…’ And that night the soup tasted of death.
(E. Wiesel, The Night)
That wood should really be exalted. Because it was inhabited by Love, because it became the symbol of exaggerated Love, because what men wanted to be a symbol of failure became a symbol of redemption: of life that does not give up. Of Satan who, possessed like none other, deceives himself that he has the last word. The word that draws down the blinds.
Instead, the words that are raised from that cross are only: to HOST – ‘He did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world may be saved by him’ – and to begin again.
To SCANDALISE, as well: because the real scandal is not a God who dies on the cross but a God who rises again and slaps Death in the face. Who, and this is as paradoxical as it is ambitious, rather than explaining the reason for evil chose the only lesson that could be listened to without running the risk of being interpreted wrongly: he chose to dwell in the most absurd and absolute pain – Death – so as then to rise again. Leaving behind him the most splendid of possible legacies: ‘They will turn their gaze to he whom they pierced’ (Jn 19:37). That is to say they will behold the cross from the garden of the Resurrection. From a privileged position.
God so loved. This is the burning heart of Christianity, the synthesis of faith: ‘We are not Christians because we love God. We are Christians because we believe that God loves us’ (L. Xardel). Salvation is that He loves me, not that I love Him. The only true Christian heresy is indifference, the perfect opposite of love. What thwarts the strongest plots of history of God is only indifference.
Instead ‘loving very much’ is of God, and of true sons of God. And I believe that every time that a creature loves very much, at that moment he is engaging in something that is divine; at that moment he is generated as a son of God, the incarnation of His project.
He so loved the world: these are words that should be repeated without end, divine monotony to be engraved on the flesh of the heart, to be stewarded as a leitmotiv, a refrain that contains the essential, every time that a doubt goes back to extending its veil over your heart.
He so loved the world that he gave: to love is not an emotion, it involves giving; generously, illogically, senselessly giving. And God cannot give anything less than Himself (Meister Eckart).
God did not send his Son to judge the world but so that the world could be saved by him. A saved world, not a judged world. Every time that we fear judgements, on ourselves because of the shadows that we carry inside ourselves, we are pagans (and then we, too, throw ‘sacrifices’ into the volcano to win God’s favour…to make sure that He does not wake up), we have understood nothing about the cross. Instead, every time that we ourselves issue judgements, we slide outside, away from the history of God.
A saved world, with everything that is living inside it. To save means to conserve, and nothing will be lost: no deed of love, no courage, no strong perseverance, no face. Not even the smallest blade of grass. Because it is the whole of creation that asks, that groans in the labour pains of salvation.
Because whoever believes in Him will not be lost, but will have eternal life. To believe in this God, to enter this dynamic, to allow Him to enter us, to enter the divine space ‘of loving so much’, to trust, and to entrust oneself to love as a form of God and form of living, means to have eternal life, to do the things that God does, things that deserve not to die, that belong to the most intimate fibres of God. Those who do this already possess, in the present, eternal life, a full life; they fully fulfil their existence.
Such is the Cross: the instrument of judgement, the gallows on which are nailed in a symbolic way all the horrors of humanity, in reality embraces the most paradoxical contradiction, because evil and innocence coexist in an apparent defeat of justice. Such is the Cross: opposites touch each other and cross over, like the two poles that make it up and stand upright on a forum that penetrates the earth. The Cross is the total lowering of God. It is the definitive descent, until hell, and for this reason demonstrates the style of God: a continuous coming down to the last and to those buried in the innards of pain.
It is thanks to this eternal descent that Jesus, the Son, can communicate eternal life to everyone, without exclusions. It is thanks to this radical lowering – which is, that is to say, at the roots – that he can be raised, so that the gaze of all those who are crushed by the earth can rise up and turn to him, encountering a supportive face that generates hope. The Cross is the manifestation of the roots of love: a total and definitive – eternal, therefore – sharing of the pain of the world, so that whoever believes in him – that is to say accepts this sharing – should not be lost but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).
No other way to HAPPINESS exists. Whoever in an obstinate way wants to raise himself up in order to be seen and admired, who sells his inheritance for a plate of lentils and his precious treasure in order to be looked at, without realising how much the eyes of other people can be more ones of theft than of admiration, gradually loses the height of his human dignity. To the point of being buried in tribulation.
Instead, those who opt with trust for the pathway of lowering, practising at the roots the choice of the last place on every occasion and in every relationship, nurturing the creativity of love with contemplation of the Cross, experience as an unexpected fruit and a divine consolation the coolness of a gushing water that fills the heart and lifts up the forehead which is at peace and happy.