I always thought Jesus knew. I thought he knew he was the Messiah, knew God’s bigger purpose for his life, knew that the cross was inevitable, but also knew that the resurrection would follow. It wasn’t until a bout ten years ago that I thought about a different possibility. What if Jesus didn’t know the outcome? What if, as fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus was limited? What if he didn’t know what was happening to him? Didn’t know he would be executed, crucified? What if, in his great love for this crazy world, he just yielded to the consequences of loving without limits, come what may? What if he had no idea of the resurrection, but gave himself over to the process of torture and death, as he had seen so many martyrs do before him? What if, on Easter morning, he was the first one to be surprised?
Ten years ago I began a four-year program in spiritual direction through Sacred Heart University. Nothing expanded me the way this four-year program did. One of the books we read for this program is a little book called Consider Jesus: New Waves in Christology, by the Roman Catholic theologian, Elizabeth Johnson. Since then I have shared this book in numerous courses I have taught. Many people say that it has profoundly deepened their understanding of Jesus. It profoundly deepened my own understanding of Jesus. The chapter that struck me the most was the one entitled, “Jesus’ Self Understanding.” Here Johnson says what we have long known, that in the early church, there were struggles as to how this guy Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. Some fell down on one side of the spectrum, that as fully God, he certainly could not have experienced the literal suffering and ignoble, humiliating death on the cross, for that would diminish his divinity. Others said that as fully human, as God made flesh, of course he experienced the full spectrum of our humanity, including literal suffering and death. I have always fallen into the latter camp, but I still thought he knew, knew that his suffering and death on the cross was a step he had to undergo in the process which would ultimately lead to resurrection.
The early church didn’t really help us too much, in that it eventually adopted a both/and rather than an either/or in the paradox we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, that Christ is both fully divine AND fully human. In fact, the biblical witness itself falls down on both sides of this argument. The earliest biblical witness, Saint Paul, poses the profound hymn from Philippians 2: “Not counting equality with God as something that can be grasped, God emptied Godself and took on our human flesh…even to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The Greek word for this complete self-emptying is Kenosis. The three Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke, all present a Jesus who in this Kenosis, was limited in his understanding. But John, the latest of the gospels, falls down on the other side of the equation, and presents a powerful Jesus, who knew what he was doing every step of the way: “I have the power to lay down my life, and I have the power to take it up again.” The bible scholar’s “rule” is to place more weight on the earliest witnesses. In other words, on Paul’s and the Synoptic writers’ depiction of a fully human Jesus, who, in complete Kenosis, like us, is limited in his understanding. To me this does not lessen Jesus. In fact, it deepens his love for the cosmos.
Johnson quotes the great Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, who holds onto the paradox when he says that, like us, Jesus had two “poles of being: categorical and transcendental.” Like all of us, Jesus had his categorical pole of being. I wake up in the morning and am aware that I am Linda, married to Ted, the mother of Zach, Victoria, and Juliana, the pastor of First Lutheran Church. That is my categorical pole of being. But I also have moments when I glimpse my higher purpose, my divine purpose, the Linda God created me to be, my transcendental pole of being. So do you, if you really think about it.
For our kids’ sermon on Easter Day we sat with the children in the chancel area filled with gorgeous flowers. We asked the kids if they wanted a plant to take home Of course they all said “Yes.” So I asked them to put our their hands, and dropped a seed into each of their hands. They were surprised, and disappointed. But then I talked about how the seed, when buried in the earth, becomes the plant, and how there is a connection between the kind of seed and the plant it becomes (read 1 Corinthians, chapter 15). This would explain why even Jesus’ closest friends did not recognize him in his resurrected form, and then, it dawned on them, and they did. Something was different, but something was also the same. The seed had become the plant. We ended up giving the kids both a packet of seeds, and a plant to take home.
What if, that first Easter morning, Jesus was the first to be surprised by the resurrection? For me that “not knowing the outcome” does not diminish Jesus. Rather it reveals the depth of his love for this cosmos, in that he surrendered himself to something bigger, as must we all at those pivotal moments in our lives, those moments of birth and death, which are so intimately connected (see last week’s blog). Christ emptied himself into our humanity, even into our death, and only on Easter morning did Jesus realize what resurrection is!
Now, the question is, can we? Can we also fully live this paradoxical life? As human beings who contain within ourselves that imago dei, that spark of divine life, can we open ourselves to that something bigger, come what may? Can we let ourselves be seeds, can we let ourselves die and be buried, can we let ourselves be cracked open by this human life? And can we trust that we will be surprised by resurrection?
This day, may you be surprised by resurrection in all you encounter,
and may you surprise all you encounter with your resurrection life!
Linda Forsberg, Copyright April 8, 2015
Photos: Easter Sunrise service, Sandy Point Beach, Potowomut, 2015; Easter Sunrise Service, Potowomut, 2015; Stations of the Cross Walk, Good Friday, 2015; Stations of the Cross Walk, Good Friday, 2015; Kids Sermon, Linda with John Luca, 2015; Easter Garden, First Lutheran Church, East Greenwich, RI, 2015; Linda with Emily, Brenton Point, Newport, RI; Ted in the Caves, Negril, Jamaica, 2013