It is helpful if we see the whole process of Good Friday through Easter, usually referred to as the Triduum, as one integrated whole. The Church affirms that the death of Jesus is not separable from his Resurrection, nor is it possible to consider the Resurrection unless it’s in the context of his death by crucifixion. To appreciate this, we have to change our perspective away from the human perspective focused on the human drama of the human Christ. That drama is set against the competing political forces that serve as the backdrop of the narrative moving from Palm Sunday through his death and entombment, and then reversed on Easter morning with the empty tomb. The Church has always used this human perspective on events to flesh out the liturgies of Holy Week. We embrace this rich human perspective on these highly emotionally charged events for they put us in touch with the humanity of Jesus. His human nature is also carried over into his Resurrection, where it is not just a spirit that walks among his followers but the bodily presence of Christ as well.
As an alternative, however, I’m suggesting here is to take a “cosmic” perspective, such as that expressed by this New Testament author:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
How can the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth possible fit the eternal nature the author of Hebrews presents?
First, we can try to understand afresh the mighty works of this Jesus–allowing himself to be betrayed and taken prisoner, accepting suffering at the hands of the Romans, and offering up his life willingly to the cruelest form of physical death on the Cross. These all constitute one movement, the final culmination of Jesus’ Incarnation. His willing acts of self-offering unite his conception, his birth, and his earthly life and ministry—all bearing fruit in his death. The same Jesus who died is then raised by the Father as a sign of triumph over death and the forces of destruction. In Jesus’ Resurrection, God manifests the essence of God is found in life and the promise of eternal life. Jesus is restored to life so that his disciples and followers may be witnesses of God’s work, and that ultimately Christ may return freely to that heavenly place whence he came as the final seal of his authority and eternal nature.
We need to understand the events of Holy Week in Jerusalem in 29 or 30 CE are not simply historical developments that came about by a series of human processes, but that they must have been part of a divine plan. Neither the opposition of the Pharisees, nor the plotting of the Temple hierarchy, nor even the Roman power of execution actually brought about Jesus’ death. The Gospels tell us of these movements, but they are only the immediate, “efficient” reasons for Christ’s death. Seen as the ultimate act of God’s plan of salvation for us, the road to the Cross has a much longer course. If not from the beginning of our human history, the impetus toward Christ’s death came at least from the time when the Godhead knew humanity had become estranged and sought to return it to wholeness and life. In a word, God’s plan of salvation for our species represents the ancient desire of God to reconcile us. That is why John’s Gospel begins,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4)
Within that timeless, cosmic framework, the purpose of God takes a definite form, leading to the Incarnation:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The divine theological perspective declares the willingness of the Son to become human preceded the actual act of the Incarnation pronunciation to Mary. Before the Gospels were composed, Paul quoted what appears to be even to him an ancient hymn declaring how God was working through the “emptying” of the Son:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a Cross.
Therefore, God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
From this perspective, all that Jesus does on the earth is working towards God’s agenda and his task of redemption. God’s love is the ultimate sign of union with human beings, and God is the ultimate mover behind the Passion and Crucifixion. Only through the ultimate resignation of all the glory of being God can Jesus become our Savior. The crowning glory of being God’s Anointed and King over us is found in the miserable Cross. But we know that is not the end of the story, for God raised Christ, and in the mystery of the Resurrection, concepts of human agency fail. Both in his humanity (such as showing the marks of the nails to Thomas) and in the spiritual nature of his Resurrection (entering through lock doors and appearing in various places in some supernatural way), Christ finally reveals to those who follow him who it is they have been following all along.
The last word of the story is not the disappearance of Christ but seeing his ascension as the seal of the ever-presence of Christ. Hence our proclamation of faith:
Christ has died (past tense in the realm of history);
Christ is risen (continuing present tense having put off death forever);
Christ will come again (future tense)
We put our hope and trust in that last phrase and measure our own lives in the light of the risen Christ. From the “cosmic” perspective of understanding his Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, we can best understand who Jesus Christ is and his central role in all of human history. He represents the continual will of the Eternal One, ever seeking to reconcile us to God by his most precious acts of self-giving love.