Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Death of Death by Death

           Good Friday is not the day we as Christians celebrate death. Death is not what we hold up victoriously in our processions at the Mass. If that were true, we would in essence be celebrating the power of Hell, which would clearly be at odds with what it means to be Christian. If that were true, then we would scoff at the Resurrection, for the Resurrection is the ultimate slap in the face to death. So what are we celebrating on this most Holy Friday? In a sense, we are celebrating a death. But we are not celebrating Death. Rather, we are celebrating the death of a very specific, particular, concrete death. We are celebrating the death of Death by death. Before we unpack this mystery, we must answer, what is Death?

           Death is hard to define. Even with our advanced medical knowledge, the ontology of death has never been pinned down justifiably by our modern dictionaries. Is it the functional cessation of neurological activity? Near Death Experiences at least seem to indicate to an extent a possibility for the contrary. Is it the functional cessation of the heart? That is not universally fatal. The point is that death is ambiguous and shrouded by mystery. We cannot pin down death, even if we can prolong bodily sustenance. Death, rather, pins us down. It is the consumption of Being by non-Being. It is, therefore, the perfect manifestation of evil. For what is evil but the privation of Being? With this in mind, what greater evil could there be than for a being whose Nature is called to be elevated to an exponentially higher level of Being to immediately descend to the pit of privation? No evil could be greater, indeed. Death is the epitome of evil. It is that which separates the beloved from its lover; it is that which separates a created being from Being Itself.

           If this evil could receive its own medicine, by being put to Death itself, would not that be greatest act of charity conceivable? The greatest Love imaginable? Yet this is precisely what we tacitly profess every time we make the sign of the cross. Christ, who is the sheer act of Being Itself, participating in our human nature, took upon Himself the greatest evil conceivable, that greater than which no evil can be conceived, the manifestation of the supreme instance of privation, swallowing it up and, being overwhelmed by that which is contrary to His very Nature, breathed His last, sharing utterly, therefore, in our humanity. Every instance of sin and darkness was on display at the Crucifixion (stupidity, violence, betrayal, mockery, sloth, wrath, etc), and Christ swallowed every instance of it by doing the only thing He knows how to do, by fighting with love, even when confronted with the greatest evil conceivable. That Christ was willing to share so utterly in our humanity, even in its greatest instance of privation, truly proves that human nature has been divinized, that now we can be hopeful towards OUR divinization, towards our participation in God's own way of Being, because God's own way of Being shared utterly in our lowly human nature, displayed most fully at Calvary. But, of course, that is not the end of the story. The crucifixion alone is not how Death died. It was necessary in order to unite humanity with divinity, but the true divinization of the human race also called for human nature to become like God. This could only happen through the Resurrection of the body. The Resurrection is the completion of the crucifixion, destroying the supreme instance of evil with the supreme instance of the Divine Life, made whole through the paschal mystery of Christ.

           Now we can understand why Paul says that neither death nor life, nor angels or principalities can separate us from the love of God. Because we killed God. God consumed the supreme instance of evil, yet his existential love non-violently conquers death with the Resurrection, finalizing the purpose for becoming Man, "that Man might become God" (St. Athanasius).

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