At Mass on Easter Sunday, the priest preached the Easter story. He preached about Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 of the Easter story but not about Chapter 2. Chapter 2, He omitted. It is the most important chapter of the Easter story, yet, the priest skipped it.
He preached about Chapter 1.
Chapter 1 deals with the evil we did to the Son of God at the end of the approximately thirty-three year Visit He paid to us at and about the city of Jerusalem in a region of our planet known as the Middle East more than two thousand years ago. We tortured and killed the Son of God while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable. Ouch! Buckets of blood spilled through the wounds we opened in His body with lash, thorns, nails and spear. On this cataract of blood, His very life itself departed from His body. His body, His blood and His very life itself were His to keep and not ours to take. Yet, we took them anyway. We ground Him up under the millstone. We baptized Him in the boiling cauldron of pain and suffering. We impaled Him on the sharp hook of salvation with the same insouciance as the fisherman who impales a live worm on a sharp hook. We hung Him from a tree and, like a piñata, beat him to a bloody pulp with sticks. There was no worse evil that we could have done to Him. We committed the sin of sins against Him. He suffered and died. The life of our savior concluded in abject failure. It ended in utter defeat. Evil was victorious. Evil had stopped Christ in His tracks. Evil had put an end to the Visit that the Son of God had paid to us as one of us - an equal to us in our humanity - a partner with us in our suffering.
Or so it seemed.
The priest then preached about Chapter 3.
He omitted Chapter 2 even though Chapter 2 tells the most important part of the story.
He skipped to Chapter 3
Chapter 3 deals with His Resurrection from the dead. In Chapter 3, God gave us proof that He was God by rising from the dead. There is no stronger evidence of divinity than rising from the dead. I know of no one else who can do that but God. Indeed, His Resurrection from the dead is an awesome display of omnipotence. But our notion of God expects the characteristic of omnipotence. Without omnipotence, God would not be God. When a God exercises omnipotence, we are not surprised. That is what God is supposed to do and be. Omnipotence, by definition, is a well known characteristic of God.
Between Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 is another layer of reality on which a different story was unfolding. The priest left Chapter 2 of the Easter story out.
Chapter 2 of the Easter story presents to us a portrait of God that is different than the conventional pictures of God that we hold in our heads. Chapter 2 of the story held the surprise. Chapter 2 of the story held the unexpected. Chapter 2 of the story held the revolutionary. Chapter 2 of the story held the contrast between God and the children of Adam and Eve. Chapter 2 of the story held the glorious triumph of the Son of God. Chapter 2 of the story held the sublime victory.
But the priest left Chapter 2 out.
Why did the priest omit something of such importance?
The omission tells me that He did not understand. He is a good priest but he did not understand. I am sure that He knew the content of Chapter 2. He just could not articulate it in relationship to Chapter 1 and Chapter 3. Chapter 2 was missing from his mind so it was missing from his sermon.
There are three significant chapters to the Easter story. Leave one chapter out and the Easter story gets distorted. Its message becomes garbled. When the Easter story is told, one must describe three separate and distinct layers of reality not one or two. The Easter story is the story about God so, when we tell it, we ought to tell it right. We ought to present all three layers of reality.
So, what did the priest leave out? What did the priest bypass? What did the priest omit? What does Chapter 2 contain?
Chapter 2 tells us about the lesser known characteristics of God. Chapter 2 tells that part of the Easter story dealing with the reaction of the Son of God to the evil we did to Him. Together with Chapter 1, Chapter 2 is the reason we can say that God delivered to us a guarantee at Calvary that the love note God delivered to us at Bethlehem is genuine. Chapter 2 is the tale of refusal. It tells the tale of the Son of God saying, 'No!' to us.
Through the bloody wounds we opened in His body with lash, thorns, nails and spear, the Son of God surrendered His life to us. However, He refused to surrender His love for us.
Despite the evil we did to Him, He continued to love us nonetheless.
For the guarantee of Calvary to work, He needed to cling to His love for us, hold tight and not let go as we drove Him through the evil gauntlet. His love for us needed to survive the evil baptism into which we immersed Him for the guarantee to work. If His love for us did not survive the evil baptism into which we immersed Him or if we failed to immerse Him into the evil baptism, there would be no guarantee. It was not enough for God to deliver a love note to us. It was not enough for God themselves to tell us they love us. After the debacle of Eden, God knew that we needed more than the Word of God. God knew that we would not listen to the Word of God. That is why God gave us a guarantee of their Word.
At Bethlehem, God sent us a love note. It was no ordinary love note. It was alive. It lived and breathed. At Calvary, the Son of God gave us a guarantee that the love note was genuine. If it were counterfeit, it would have faded as we tortured Him and died when we killed Him. But it did not. God's love for us survived. The survival of His love for us guarantees that the love note of Bethlehem is genuine.
A bonfire of love for us burns in the most sacred heart of Jesus. The evil baptism into which we immersed Him neither extinguished it nor reduced its intensity by the slightest degree. He continues to love us nonetheless despite the wickedness we did to Him. His most sacred heart is still filled to the brim with love for us. Not a drop - not a drop - of His love for us spilled through the bloody wounds we opened in His body. Buckets of blood spilled. His very life itself spilled. But not a drop of His love for us spilled.
How do I enlist? Where do I sign up? How do I join the kingdom of this God who loves me so much?
Our traditional notions of God tell us that creatures who torture and kill their creator when He pays them a visit better watch out. Such behavior will piss God off. Such behavior will antagonize God. Such behavior will make God hostile. Such behavior will turn God into an enemy. Such behavior will make God anti-human. Such behavior will cause God to take vengeance upon us.
However, none of this happened.
God does not get even. God loves and forgives. This is the apocalypse of Calvary. This is the revelation.
God's reaction to the great evil we did to Him was totally unexpected. It was surprising. It was revolutionary. We committed the sin of sins against the Son of God and He asked His father to forgive us. Who is this God who loves and forgives! Oh my! He is not like the other gods that we have followed throughout human history. Hosanna. He is different. Our God is different. Of all the gods, our God is unique. He loves and forgives.
This is Chapter 2 of the Easter story.
It ought never to be left out.
It is the most important part of the Easter story.
The Resurrection only tells us God can. Calvary tells us that God will. What is the lesson of Calvary? That God was willing to do Calvary for us tells us in no uncertain terms that there is nothing that God is not willing to do for us - His beloved - including raising us up from the dead and giving us the gift of eternal life in paradise.
Upon Calvary build your understanding of the nature of God. Upon Calvary rest your head. An understanding of the nature of God built on Calvary is infallible. On the canvas of Calvary in pigments of pain of suffering, the brush of truth painted a self-portrait of God for us.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that God's love for us is real.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that God's love for us is indestructible.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that God's love for us is invincible.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that God's love for us is intransigent.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that God's love for us survives.
The self portrait of Calvary tells us that we are quite important to God. How do we know how important we are to God? Look at the exorbitant price the Son of God paid to manufacture the self portrait of Calvary. The self portrait was not free. It required that the Son of God pay a price to get it done. It required that the price be paid not from His unlimited divine resources but from his limited human resources. He paid them all for us. He kept not a penny for himself. He has never paid more for anything else (John 15:13). That He has never paid more for anything else tells us how valuable we are to God. To God, we are the apple of His eye. To God, we are the pearl of great price. To God, we are the treasure buried in the field. To God, we are worth the exorbitant price that He paid to put into our hands the guarantee that His love for us is real, indestructible, invincible and intransigent. If Calvary does not teach us this, nothing will.
Happy Easter! Keep your hopes up! Keep your expectations high! Have patience and trust in God. Life, no matter how long, is an infinitesimally thin slice of time when we compare it to the thickness of eternity. We are born. We blink. And it is over (Emily Philips). The brevity of life confirms the mercy of God. Have patience and trust in God.