David Tracy, a Roman Catholic theologian, has said, “There is never an authentic disclosure of truth which is not also transformative.” What he means, at least in part, is that the Christian claim on ‘truth’ is hollow if it remains a doctrinal claim apart from a lived experience of transformed lives. And, of course, Jesus places a big exclamation point on this when he calls himself “the way, the truth, the life.” Indicting the religious experts, he shows truth by embodying the pascal mystery, by becoming our Passover, by descending into hell to release us from our own hellish prisons.
As the sun descends beneath the horizon and darkness falls upon the earth, millions of Christians all over the world are celebrating the dawn. Darkness is required for a dawn. You cannot have authentic faith without a darkness. The mystery of the faith is precisely this – that we must walk in the cruciform way of the suffering Savior. Christianity is, in the end, no happy-clappy, wealth and health social club. It is about a transformed community, imaging the Son, walking the pascal way, dying and rising, resisting the violent-coercive-imperialistic way of consumerist culture, and most likely paying the price for it. Humiliation is not an option – it’s an inevitability.
But the breaking dawn invites us to see that all is not doom and gloom. From darkness, the impossible is realized. With the disciples of Jesus scattered to the four winds, afraid to embrace a faith that might require their participation as those transformed by truth, Jesus emerges to a world that must now reckon with a very new reality. This new reality is that wars are not won and lost by power, intimidation, competition, or violence. The real battle is won through self-surrender, humiliation, turning the other cheek, loving and blessing and forgiving our neighbor.
If only that might become the politics that informs this election season.
Real faith requires more than intellectual assent. It invites participation in that downwardly mobile, self-sacrificial, humiliating way of the Cross. Jesus does not save us from suffering. He saves us from ourselves, which engages us in a process of intense suffering, as every part of us that resists God is chipped and stripped away. And he calls us into the path of blessing and forgiving others. It’s so hard, because its so counter-intuitive. We’d rather live out of our old reptilian brain, our evolutionary hangover, which pits us against others, which defines others as enemies, which demonizes and uses and manipulates. God knows I am fighting this very battle every day. And but for the suffering servanthood of Jesus, I’d be well on my way to living an vacuous Easter faith that does not require Good Friday suffering. I’d have written my own version of the story – only victory, success, fame…no participation, humiliation, risk, vulnerability, suffering.
And so on the heels of Easter, we can only say, “He is risen” because he first suffered and died. And we can only experience our own risenness through the same. Faithfulness isn’t some life of legalistic and moralistic perfectionism. It is, instead, a dying and rising with One who paved the highway through the desert for us. The dawn is breaking. Are we on that highway, or have we paved our own more convenient way?