Paschal Mystery

This article is a continuation of the one I wrote last week about the prayer of recollection, which may give you some more context for what follows. You can read that article by clicking HERE.

As we enter into the temple of contemplation, we participate in the divine liturgy of the inner person and partake in the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery. At the heart of Christian liturgy is an encounter with the lamb who is slain from the foundation of the world. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heartbeat of the gospel. It is the linchpin of the good news, the axis mundi around which the entire cosmos turns. As Christians, we participate in the Paschal Mystery so that we are transformed from death into life

Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, speaks beautifully about the light that shines in the darkness, the Word which becomes flesh. The light of Christ’s incarnation shines in our hearts, illuminating our inner eyes, so that we may once again see the spiritual knowledge created within us as the image of God. Our bodies, so Paul tells us, are the clay jars in which this mysterious and radiant treasure dwells.

Our angelic nature, made of light, dwells within the depths of our animal nature, made of clay.

Paul goes on to describe how we carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus may be made visible within our bodies as well. Both death and life are at work in our animal nature for the glory of Christ. By faith, we know that the one who raised Jesus will also raise us with Jesus so that all creatures may come to be in his presence. 

A medieval Irish text called the Evernew Tongue (which is included in my book Psalter of the Birds) talks about the way death and resurrection, along with all the elements of nature, are contained within the human body that Christ assumed in the incarnation and resurrected after his death.

In this text, the Paschal Mystery is an eternal principle by which the cosmos is governed. It gives the example of the changing seasons by saying that death comes in winter and resurrection comes in spring. All of nature participates in the eternal principle of resurrection which is the nature of Christ, in whom all things are made. 

The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus were a historical and temporal manifestation of the eternal and timeless nature of Christ. Incarnation makes death possible, death makes resurrection possible, and resurrection makes incarnation possible. These are the principles by which the universe was made and the laws by which it is governed. When we awaken the knowledge of all things which is sleeping within us, we see the Paschal Mystery at the centre of everything.

The incarnation of the Son of God into the baby Jesus shows us that all of creation is an act of incarnation. In order for a creature to have being, it must participate in the ground of all being. Every creature is a theophany, a visible manifestation of God. The created universe not only participates in the eternal incarnation but also the eternal death and resurrection. It is the eternal resurrection of Jesus’ humanity that makes incarnation possible. In the Evernew Tongue, the apostle Philip appears in an angelic form on Easter to explain the hidden meaning of the creation story in Genesis. He says,

“For the tale tells us the making of heaven and earth; and likewise of the creation of the world which has been accomplished by Christ’s resurrection from the dead on this eve of Easter. For every material and every element and every nature which is seen in the world, they were all combined in the body which Christ rose again – that is, in the body of every human.” (Trans by Carey)

At first glance this seems like an impossible timeline. Surely the creation of the world preceded the incarnation, since the incarnation was when Christ came into the world. If we look at this from the perspective of linear time, there is no way that the resurrection of Christ is what accomplished the creation of the world. But if we step outside of time, as God is outside of time, we can see that the fullness of Christ’s divinity and humanity were there in the beginning with God.

All knowledge is contained within our angelic nature and all of the elements of the material world are contained within our animal nature. When Christ incarnated into human form, and resurrected his fleshly body from the grave, it was a theophany of the Paschal Mystery which has always existed and always will exist. 

The apostle Peter, in the book of Acts, speaks about a universal restoration. Resurrection is the restoration of life, the process of returning to health and wholeness after falling into a state of disrepair. The restoration of all things is something that is central to Eriugena’s thought. He believed that all created beings, from pebbles on the beach all the way up to angels in Heaven, will be counted amongst the saved. He gives this teaching in his magnum opus Periphyseon, which is written in the form of a Socratic dialogue. His student asked him,

“Are we to say that the irrational animals, and even trees and plants, and all parts of this world from the highest to the lowest, are restored by the Incarnation of the Word of God?”

To which Eriugena replied,

“When the Word assumed the nature of man, did He not take upon Himself every creature, visible and invisible, and was He not the Saviour of everything which, being in man, He took upon himself? And if in taking human nature He took upon Himself every creature, then He is the Saviour of every creature, and every creature will be saved by Him for all eternity.” (Trans by Sheldon Williams and O’Meara)

Eriugena taught that the human being is the “universal workshop” because every nature is found within it. The entire chain of being is working together as one within us. We have the minerals of the earth in our bones, the water of the seas in our veins, the colours of flowers in our cheeks, and the faculties of reason, wisdom, and creativity in our minds. Therefore, when Christ took humanity upon himself he assumed the entire cosmos. When he resurrected his humanity from the grave, it was a universal restoration.

In Eriugena’s response to his student, he chooses his words very carefully. He describes the salvation brought about by Christ’s incarnation and resurrection as something within time when he says that it happened in the past and that it will continue on into the future. He also describes it as something which happens for all of eternity, which, if you are familiar with Eriugena’s thought, means outside of time altogether.

The restoration of all things precedes time by existing in eternity, it entered into time with the incarnation and death of Jesus, and it will continue to be the foundation of all things for the rest of time in the ongoing resurrection of all things. It is the restoration of all things, made possible by the Paschal Mystery, that we participate in when we turn inwards and gaze upon the image of God.

The resurrection of Christ is available to all creatures and is equally present in the changing of the seasons as it is in salvation of our souls. Our anger can be resurrected into mercy, our sadness can be resurrected into joy, and our pride can be resurrected into humility. The power of Christ’s resurrection penetrates all things in Heaven and on Earth. When we participate in Christ’s eternal resurrection, we restore our inner universe and, by doing so, we help to restore the outer universe as well.

So do the work of healing your souls my friends. Bless whatever demons you may have tucked away in the hidden recesses of your soul and bring them into the light of Christ to be healed. Do not think that your inner condition is irrelevant because, as Peter said in his sermon, when we find a new kind of consciousness and turn towards God times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord.

When we live lives of peace we hasten the arrival of Christ, who will bring about a new Heaven and a new Earth. Then, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, we will be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

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