On Becoming the Paschal Mystery...Part II
March 07, 2007
JOHAN VAN PARYS
The Paschal Triduum is preceded by 40 days of preparation called Lent. The word “lent” is somewhat of a strange word. Lent comes from the Middle English word lente which means spring. In Dutch and Flemish this very word is still used to refer to springtime: de lente. The use of this word makes some sense as during springtime new life abounds. Similarly, during the season of Lent we prepare for the celebration of New Life at Easter. Still the Dutch word for the time of preparation before Easter might be better suited as it is referred to either as Veertigdagen tijd (The Forty Days) or Vastentijd (The Time of Fasting). These terms are more descriptive of what this time is about and are less about what the outcome is to be: i.e. New Life.
During the forty days of Lent, Christians indeed are called to observe the disciplines of fasting, praying and giving of alms as they prepare for a worthy celebration of the Paschal mysteries and as they continue to become more like Christ and thus prepare for the fulfillment of the promise. Sadly, Christians too often forget that they are still in a time of anticipation for the second coming when the Messianic time will be complete. The Early Christians were very much aware of the fact that Jesus promised them he would return and that his return would signal the fullness of the Messianic times. His return, indeed would mark the complete restoration of the ideals of the first Paradise such as peace, harmony, perfection which was God’s original intention with creation.
Early Christians were so intent on this that they thought of nothing else but readying themselves and the community for the return of Christ; for the Second Coming. So imminent did they consider this Second Coming that they did not see any point in considering marriage. Remembering the fate of the foolish virgins, their sole concern was with anticipating Christ’s return by working on perfecting themselves and the world. Sometimes it seems that after waiting for 20 centuries, Christians have lost this true sense of anticipating the completion of the promise and working toward the fullness of the Messianic times and the return of Paradise.
The hinge of this Paschal Mystery, which in essence inaugurated the Messianic times is the cross on which Jesus died. This cross is laden with pain, humiliation, death but it is also crowned with salvation, resurrection and joy. Unless we just accept this mystery at face value, we cannot but ask the question as to the reason for the cross. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? In a valiant attempt to make this mystery easily accessible, the answer has been made quite simple: “Jesus died for our sins.” But what exactly does that mean? Did he die as a result of our sins? Did he die to atone for our sins? Dide die in order for us to rise above our sins? Did he die in order for us to move beyond our sins? And whose sins are we talking about? Do we mean the sins of our ancestors; our very own sins; or maybe even future sins? A complete answer includes all of the above and much more.
There is, however, another approach to this question. This approach suggests that the death of Jesus was the ultimate consequence of the self-giving life Jesus modeled for us. This is the most eloquent expression of God’s unconditional love for all of humanity as Jesus not only lived his life but in the end gave his life for the salvation of the world. We are the recipients of this unconditional love. In turn, we are called to love unconditionally. Once we have reached this level of love which conquers all sin, then all sinfulness will be banned from the earth and the promise will be fulfilled. Thus, through modeling a life-giving way of life and inviting Christians to live accordingly, Jesus inaugurated the messianic times. The cross, therefore is also the hinge in the life of all Christians.
Johan van Parys is Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, MN.
READ OTHER ARTICLES BY JOHAN VAN PARYS:
Advent: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Christmas: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Epiphany: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Solemnity (Part I and Part II)
Lectio Divina - Visio Divina
On Becoming the Paschal Mystery (Part I and Part III)
The Fundamental Virtues of Liturgical Architecture
Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus...Stations of the Cross
We are the Body of Christ