Thomas Aquinas expresses the lovely thought that Christ the Son, being nothing less than the second person of the Trinity, must actually feel pain and humiliation more intensely than the rest of us, not less, because he is God. Aquinas’s is a wonderful reflection on the philosophical implications of the incarnation in the ‘hypostatic union’ of natures: the complete knowledge, closer than kissing, that God the Son has of our human humiliation, qua God; the terrible knowledge he has of it, qua man. Instead of a God who has to be pleased and placated in a system of rewards and punishments, then, we have the God of complete identification with the worst that human sin can throw at us. Already, then, a precious new tiny thread of meaning emerges, one that passes me beyond my control and into God’s control. The possibility is opened that in the meaning beyond meaning that is the cross, human humiliation is actually a signal of a divine exchange beyond all human calculation. On this intimation we now wait. (Sarah Coakley, The Cross and the Transformation of Desire, 17)
Occasionally, I think, all Christians revert into a kind of functional Docetism (the name which early Christians gave to a belief they eventually regarded as ‘heretical,’ or dangerous to the truth: specifically, the idea that Jesus was just divine and not one bit human). That is, we assume that somehow the humanness—the pain, the crying, the torture, the death—of Jesus’ passion must somehow be compensated for by his divineness. Orthodox belief, however, such as is encapsulated for us in the early Creeds of the Church, will not let us play this game, however. We are forced into a difficult, but precious, conundrum: that God in Christ, fully human and fully divine, drank the cup of suffering to the dregs. As English theologian and Anglican priest Sarah Coakley remarks in today’s reading, this potentially means Jesus “actually [felt] pain and humiliation more intensely than the rest of us” precisely “because he is God.” We Christians must never give in to the temptation to resolve the intellectual puzzle of how Jesus can be at once fully human and fully divine by means of soft-pedaling one or the other ‘fully’. Only as human can our Lord suffer. Only as divine can he do anything about it.
Let us pray: O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Learn: Read the excerpt from Sarah Coakley’s The Cross and the Transformation of Desire again. What do you notice differently now? How have you been tempted to resolve the intellectual conundrum of who Jesus is? In whose favor are you most tempted: divine or human? Take a moment to reflect on the consequences, and consider the difference it would make to your worship this Holy Week not to give in.