EASTER: A Faith That Loves The Earth, by Karl Rahner

A Faith That Loves The Earth Karl Rahner

From The Mystical Way in Everyday Life

It is difficult to express in worn human words the mystery contained in the joy of Easter.  If the mysteries of the gospel can enter the smallness of our human comprehension only with great difficulty, putting them into human words involves even greater difficulty.  The Easter message is the most human message of Christianity.  It is the reason we have such a hard time understanding it.  For what is the most true and obvious, in short, the easiest, is also the hardest to live out, to do, and to believe.  This is the case today because we have accepted the silent and hence undisputed assumption that religion is solely about a deep feeling of the heart and an advanced spiritual life, which we have to attain by ourselves and which, as a result, suggests that the thoughts and sentiments of the heart stand in stark contrast to reality.

But Easter says: God has done something.  He has.  And his deed has not simply touched the heart of this or that person in some subtle way, so that it now trembles a little before the unspeakable and the unnamable one.  God has raised his son from death.  God has made what was dead alive.  God has conquered death.  God has done something and declared victory in a place that has nothing to do with one’s interiority, in a place that despite all the praiseworthiness of reason makes us most ourselves, in a place of Earthly reality, far away from all mere thought and spiritual disposition, namely, where we experience what we are: children of the Earth who have to die.

We are children of this Earth.  Birth and death, body and Earth, bread and wine are our life; and the Earth is our homeland.  In the midst of all that, of course, there is a secret essence of spirit, of subtle, tender, seeing spirit who looks toward eternity, and the soul, which infuses everything with life and lightness.  But the spirit, or the soul, has to be present, has to be where we are, on this Earth and in the body, clothing them with its eternal gleam instead of acting like a pilgrim who, ghostlike, wanders across the stage of the world once while remaining misunderstood and out of place there.  We are too much children of the Earth to be able to leave the Earth behind completely.  And if Heaven is to help us make life on Earth bearable, then it will have to bend low and appear as a blessed light above this Earth and break forth as a gleam from the Earth’s dark center.

We are of the Earth.  We can become disloyal to it because of our stubbornness or self-aggrandizement, which would not be proper for the children of this humble, serious Mother Earth; or we can be loyal because, after all, we have to be who we are, meaning that we are united with Earth’s secret pain, which we feel deep inside our own being.  The Earth, our great mother, is also concerned.  She suffers from her impermanent nature.  Her most joyous feasts can suddenly become like the start of a funeral, and when one hears her laughing, one is afraid that beneath the laughter weeping will suddenly arise.  She brings forth children who die, who are too weak to live forever and have too much spirit to do without eternal joy, because they can, in contrast to the animals of the Earth, see the end even before it has come and are not mercifully spared the conscious experience of this end.  The Earth births children of immense appetites, and what she gives them is too beautiful to be ignored by them and too little to ever satisfy them.  And since the Earth is the place of this unhappy incongruence between the great promise that keeps on calling and the meager gift that does not satisfy, she also becomes the vast field of her children’s guilt, so that they try to rip from her more than she is able to give.  She may argue that she has become this way only through the original guilt of the first person on Earth, Adam.  But it makes no difference: She is the unhappy mother now, too alive and too beautiful to be able to send her children away from her so they might acquire for themselves a new home of eternal life and too poor to fully meet their longing, a longing she herself has bequeathed to them.  Most of the time, she manages neither one nor the other, since she is always both life and death, and the muddy mixture she hands her children in the form of life and death, rejoicing and mourning, creative deed and repetitive labor is called our everyday life.  Thus, we are here on Earth, our permanent home,and yet that is not enough.  And the adventure of leaving this Earthly home is impossible not because of our cowardice but rather on account of our loyalty to who we are.

What should we do then?  We should hear the message of the resurrection of the Lord!  Is Christ the Lord risen from the dead or not?  We believe in his resurrection, hence we confess: He died, he descended to the dead, and the third day he rose again.  But what does that mean and why is this message a blessing to the children of the Earth?

He who is both the son of God and a human being has died.  The one who has died is both the eternal fullness of divinity, which is sovereign, unlimited, and blessed as the word of the Father before all time and the child of the Earth as son of the blessed mother.  The one who has died is, therefore, both the son of God’s perfected nature and the child of Earth’s poverty.  But to have died does not mean (as we might think along the lines of non-Christian spiritualism) that his spirit or his soul, the receptacle of his eternal divinity, has escaped from this world and this Earth and has fled to the distant land of God’s glory beyond.  It cannot mean this simply because the body that is related to the Earth has demonstrated that a child of eternal light cannot be housed in Earth’s darkness.

We may say that he died, but we need to add immediately that he also descended to the dead and rose.  We need to add this in order to free his death from overtones of fleeing the world, overtones that we are inclined to add.  Jesus himself said that he would descend into the heart of the Earth, namely to the heart of all Earthly things, where everything is interconnected and one, to the seat of death and Earth’s impermanence.  This is where he proceeded to go in death.  By the holy strategy of his eternal nature, he allowed himself to be conquered by death so as to be swallowed up by it and to thereby reach Earth’s very center, where he could, amidst all that gives birth and forms the world’s common root, infuse it forever with his divine life.  Especially because he died, he belongs to the Earth, for putting someone’s body into Earth’s grave means that the person (or the soul, as we would say) who has died enters not only into relationship with God but also into that final union with the mysterious ground of being, where all space-time elements are tied together and have their point of origin.  In his death, the Lord descended into the lowest and deepest region of what is visible.  It is no longer a place of impermanence and death, because there he now is.  By his own death, he has become the heart of this Earthly world, God’s heart in the center of the world, where the world even before its own unfolding in space and time taps into God’s power and might.

And he rose from this heart of all Earthly things where ultimate union and utter nothingness could no longer be distinguished and from which emanates the entire course of the world.  He rose, not in order to go away in the end, not so that the pains of death could give birth to him anew, leaving the Earth’s dark womb in hopelessness and void.  No, he is risen in his body.  That means: He has begun to transfigure this world into himself; he has accepted this world forever; he has been born anew as a child of the Earth, but of an Earth that is transfigured, freed, unlimited, an Earth that in him will last forever and is delivered from death and impermanence for good.  He is risen to show not that he is leaving the tomb of the Earth forever, but that this very tomb of the dead – which is the body and the Earth – has been completely transformed into the glorious, incomprehensible home of the living God and the divine soul of the son.  By rising, he has not left the dwelling of the Earth, since he still has his body, though in a final and transfigured way, and is a part of the Earth, a part that still belongs to the Earth and is connected to Earth’s nature and destiny.  He is risen in order to reveal that by his death there remains forever implanted into Earth’s narrowness and pain, within her heart, the life of freedom and blessedness.

What we mean by Jesus’s resurrection and thoughtlessly consider his private fate is, in fact, in terms of the totality of what is real, the first indication that behind this so-called experience of an event (which we consider so important), the true and decisive nature of things has actually changed.  His resurrection is like the first erupting of a volcano, which shows that the fire of God is already burning inside the world and its light will eventually bring everything else to a blessed glow.  He is risen to show that it has already started.  The new forces of a transfigured world are already at work at the heart of the same world that forced him there in death; new forces are conquering impermanence, sin, and death at their core; and it will take only a little time in history, which we call post Christum natum, until everywhere – not just in the body of Jesus – what has happened will become visible.  Because he did not begin to heal, save, and transfigure the world on the level of surface appearances but at its innermost root, we creatures living on the world’s surface think that nothing has happened.  Because the waters of suffering and of guilt are flowing where we are, we assume that they have not yet been stopped deep down at their source.  Because malice is still carving big letters onto the face of the Earth, we conclude that love has died at the deepest core of nature.  But all of that is illusion.  And we consider that illusion to be life’s reality

He is risen because by death he has conquered and delivered Earthly existence at its very core.  And, in rising, he has retained this core.  And so he has remained.  When we confess him as risen to God in Heaven, we are saying that he is withdrawing from us his concrete transfigured humanity for a little while, and we are saying, moreover, that there is no longer a chasm between God and the world.  Christ is already at the very heart of all the lowly things of the Earth that we are unable to let go of and that belong to the Earth as mother.  He is at the heart of the nameless yearning of all creatures, waiting – though perhaps unaware that they are waiting – to be allowed to participate in the transfiguration of his body.  He is at the heart of Earth’s history, whose blind progress amidst all victories and all defeats is headed with uncanny precision toward the day that is his, where his glory will break forth from its own depths, thereby transforming everything.  He is at the heart of all tears and all death as concealed rejoicing and as the life that gains victory by its apparent death.  He is at the heart of one’s handing something to a beggar as the secret wealth that is bestowed on the giver.  He is at the heart of the miserable defeats of his servants as the victory that is God’s.  He is at the heart of our weakness as the power that is allowed to appear weak because it is invincible.  He is even at the heart of sin as the patient mercy of everlasting love that remains until the end.  As the most secret law and the innermost nature of all things, he is what still triumphs and prevails when all other laws appear to be dissolving.  He is with us like the light of the day and the air to which we pay no attention, like the secret law of a movement, a law that we do not grasp because the duration of the movement that we can experience is too short to allow us to detect its underlying formula.  But he is here, the heart of this Earthly world and the secret seal of its everlasting promise.

Therefore, we children of the Earth may love the Earth, should love her, even where she is terrifying and tormenting us with her poverty and death-dealing impermanence.  Since he has entered her forever through death and resurrection, her misery has become what is only preliminary and serves merely as a test for our faith in Earth’s innermost secret – the risen one.  That this is the hidden meaning of Earth’s poverty is generally not our experience. . . but our faith can blessedly defy experience.  It is a faith that can love the Earth since she is, or will become,the body of the risen one.  Therefore, we do not have to depart from her, for God’s life dwells in her.  If we are looking for the God of eternity (and how could we not be?) and for an Earth that is accommodating as she is and meant to serve as our eternal chosen home, then this is the one way to find both, for in the resurrection of the Lord, God as shown that he has adopted the Earth forever.

In a play of words that is hard to translate, an ancient father of the church once said: Caro cardo salutis, the flesh is the connecting point of salvation.  The place that is safe from all the pain of sin and death is not the beyond, but lies in the one who descended and lives in the innermost nature of our flesh.  The most sophisticated religion aiming at escape from world could never bring down from the distant heights of eternity the God of our life and of Earth’s salvation, and neither could it go to him in the beyond.  But he himself has come to us. And he has transformed what we are and what we should always regard as the faint Earthly remainder of our spiritual existence: the flesh.  Since that time, Mother Earth has brought forth only children that will be transfigured, for his resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of all flesh.

One thing is necessary, though, for this irreversible deed of his to become the blessing of our life.  He also has to burst open the grave of our heart, to rise from the center of our being where he is power and the promise.  There he is still in the process of doing this.  There it is still Holy Saturday until the last day, which will be the day of Easter for the entire cosmos.  Such a resurrection happens in the freedom of our faith.  Even there it is his deed.  But it is his deed occurring as ours: as a loving faith that allows us to be brought along on this unimaginable journey of all Earthly reality headed toward its own glory, a journey that started with the resurrection of Christ.

 

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