The Paschal Mystery – Pattern of Transformation

At the heart of the Gospel is a creative paradox: we must die to live.  Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt.16:25).  Jesus’ own life embodies this paradox.  He lives completely for God and for others, which necessitates the radical letting go of, or dying to, his own self-interests.  In the face of opposition and the possibility of death, he remains faithful to proclaiming the reign of God.  Ultimately, his death on the cross and his resurrection bring this paradox to a climax.  It is this paradox, which we call the paschal mystery, that is the heart of Christian discipleship.  It is how we are transformed.  Jesus also tells whoever wants to follow him that they must deny themselves and carry their crosses.  Dying and rising is our pattern as it is the pattern of salvation revealed in Jesus.

The resurrection confirms this process.  Jesus’ story does not end in crucifixion.  God raises him up.  Death yields new life, the new creation.  Ilia Delio writes, “In the resurrection, Jesus…lives in a radically transformed mode in the presence of God for eternity.  What happens in Jesus, therefore, anticipates the future of humanity and of the cosmos…its radical transformation through the power of God’s life-giving Spirit.”

The risen Christ is the summary of all our hopes.  He is what God had in mind for creation all along.  The life, ministry, and death of Jesus, consummated in his exaltation/resurrection, were the incarnation, in a unique and definitive way, of God’s saving purposes for all creation.  The early Christians described the crucified and risen Christ as ‘the beginning, the first born from the dead’ (Col.1:18; Rev.1:5), ‘the first fruits of those who have died’ (1 Cor.15:20).  They perceived that what God had done for Jesus held absolute meaning for the world.  The paschal mystery represents the dawning of God’s final intention for all of creation.  The crucified and risen Christ signifies the fulfillment and completion of creation.  So, what happened to Christ is what God wants to happen for the rest of creation: radical transformation unto divine oneness.

Christ is the integration of all humanity and all of creation with the triune mystery of God.  One and the same person is true God and true human.  Jesus Christ is both divine and human.  Here is God’s intention for the universe: divinization.  This is the End of all creation.  The resurrected Christ symbolizes the point of arrival for all creation.  He is the fulfillment of transformed human identity and the completion of creation: “The radical unity between God and the world, between divine and the human, between grace and freedom is summed up in the mystery of the eternal Word made flesh in Jesus…In the person of Jesus, God and humanity have become one.”

Christ is now the goal of creation.  He is what we are all meant to be.  God wants us all to be Christ: human and divine, radically one with God and so fully human.  Since Christ is the End of creation, the paschal mystery is the norm and paradigm of Christian life.  Dying-rising is the how of salvation.  Dying-rising is what must happen to us if we are to become one with God.  We all must radically let go of self and allow God to raise us into the new life of divine oneness.  If we but consent, God will transform us into other Christs: persons fused to the mystery of God.  Dying is the reversal and de-centering of the self.  Resurrection is the breakthrough into the mystery of God caused by God.

The early Christians believed that God’s final purpose for creation, the new creation, had been made manifest in Christ and is available now.  The risen Christ is the eruption of divine oneness into present existence.  But, the old ways remain.  New life is available while old life still exists.  In other words, injustice, death, selfishness, violence, and illusion are still part of our present existence.  They constitute the old world and the old creation—creation as separated from God.  By raising Jesus from the dead, God has brought the new creation into the present world of selfishness, injustice, and death.  We are already saved, but not yet fully saved.  We are already one with God but we have not yet fully integrated this deepest dimension of our identity with the rest our lives.