Christ’s Passion: An Expanded View

Ascension of Christ
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Mick Turner

Easter, a time of rebirth, restoration, and regeneration, is in many ways the most significant day in the entire Christian calendar. Although our culture seems to put more energy and faith into Christmas, I tend to gravitate more toward the Easter events as being central to our faith.

Recently, I was reflecting on the progression of events that the Christian tradition focuses on during this time of year. Following the preparatory season of Lent, the churches then tend to emphasize the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ. Although these events are highly significant and are integral to the entire drama of Easter, I assert there are other aspects of the passion which are often overlooked. When these vital elements of the story are omitted, we end up with an incomplete picture of what Christ accomplished as his earthly sojourn drew to a close.

Rather than the traditional three-part passion consisting of death, resurrection, and ascension, I propose the following:

Transfiguration – Gethsemane –Crucifixion –Resurrection –Post-Resurrection Appearances –Ascension – Infusion.

In addition to the three traditional aspects of the passion, in this schemata you have the Transfiguration, the agonies of Gethsemane, the Post-Resurrection Appearances, and perhaps most significantly, the Infusion. Let’s take a brief look at these events:

Transfiguration – In some mysterious fashion, Jesus’ meeting with Moses and Elijah on top of the mountain, surrounded by brilliant light, created what I think was a sort of “spiritual body” that was instrumental in the resurrection. We often focus on the valuable lesson learned by the disciples who were there and this was important to say the least. However, by focusing on this we tend to miss the major event that took place on the mountain that night.

Gethsemane – Among other things, the events in Gethsemane brought Christ into full awareness of his humanity, which was vital to his mission of cleansing and forgiveness. I am convinced that Jesus’ experience in the garden was one of intense spiritual conflict. Many people tend to gloss over or minimize what went on during that visit to Gethsemane and in so doing they miss an important aspect of Christ’s sojourn here on earth. It was there in the garden that the Master got a full taste of what human weakness was all about. Further, he faced this with total isolation as his disciples were sawing logs and the Father seemed a thousand miles away. No wonder Jesus sweated blood. Yet just as the Master had defeated the strategies and temptations of Satan in the wilderness at the beginning of his mission, here in this quiet garden setting he overcame the enemy’s more subtle weapons of fear and aloneness as his mission was nearing its conclusion.

Post-Resurrection– In these events, Christ first and foremost reassured his disciples, devastated by the execution of their Master, that he was, indeed, who he claimed to be. Also, he gave them final instructions on their mission. Several monumental events took place during these post-resurrection appearances. For example, we are all familiar with the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit “came upon” the disciples with the sound of a roaring wind and with tongues of fire. However, how many are aware that the disciples first received the Holy Spirit during the post-resurrection appearances. Read John 20:22, where  you will discover that Jesus:

…..breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In the following verse, we also discover that Jesus imparted to the disciples the power to forgive sins. For those of us who are Gentiles living 2100 years after this impartation of authority, perhaps this verse lacks the punch it originally had. If you were a Jew, however, living at the time of Jesus such an utterance would have been shocking. The Pharisees went apoplectic when Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins; now he is giving that same authority to a group of common fisher folk, former tax collectors and God knows what else. Many other things of great importance transpired during the forty days following the resurrection of Jesus. The Master instructed Peter to “feed his sheep,” and he went on to charge the disciples with what has come to be known as the “Great Commission.”

Infusion – Completely overlooked, what I call the “Infusion” is described in Ephesians 4:10, where Paul tells us Christ rose “higher than the highest heaven so that he may fill (infuse) all things with himself.” My friends, this may well be one of the most profound statements in all of scripture.

What we can say with certainty about the infusion is that it resulted in a new and deep intimacy with Christ in a life-giving, vivified cosmic hologram. Through his final act of self-emptying love (Greek kenosis), Christ has filled the entire universe with his character, his being, and his selfless love. We also have been filled with that same character, that same being, that same love. Just as we live in Christ, Christ lives in us. Again, our comprehension of these mysteries is minimal but fortunately, we don’t have to understand it all to reap its benefits. Through faith we partake of this divine hologram, or as Peter tells us, the divine nature.

Our intimacy with Christ remains as deep and as profound as always. Cynthia Bourgeault explains:

…..our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love…..mystical visionaries have tended to claim that this “pan-cosmic” saturation of his being into the deepest marrow of this created world was the cosmic cornerstone turned in his passage through death. Without in any way denying or overriding the conditions of this earth plane, he has interpenetrated them fully, infused them with his own interior spaciousness, and invited us all into the invisible but profoundly coherent energetic field so that we may live as one body – the “Mystical Body of Christ,” as it’s known in Christian tradition – manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. Jesus in his ascended state is not farther removed from human beings but more intimately connected with them. He is the integral ground, the ambient wholeness within which our contingent human lives are always rooted and from which we are always receiving the help we need to keep moving ahead on the difficult walk we have to walk here. When the eye of our own heart is open and aligned with this field of perception, we recognize whom we’re walking with.

The implications of Christ’s work as recorded in Ephesians 4:10 are staggering. If what Paul is telling us is true, and I firmly believe that it is, the outworking of our response to Christ’s kenotic love in our daily lives is far reaching. To begin with, at least in my experience, it opens my mind and my heart to a level of gratitude and love that quite frankly I could never find in the time-worn “he died for my sins” theory. Secondly, viewing the entirety of Christ’s work from this cosmic perspective creates a sincere motivation to do all that I can, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to further expand my field of spiritual vision by opening the eyes of my heart. Only in this way can I discover the complexities of Christ’s will for my life and how I fit into the unfolding of his cosmic plan of restoration and rejuvenation.

My daily walk of faith is further impacted by this way of understanding Christ’s mission in that I understand at a deeper level the significance of disciplined spiritual practice. The classical spiritual disciplines of our faith are the methods whereby we can open the eyes of our heart, discover more profoundly the ways in which Christ is continuing to carry out his mission in this universe, and align myself with this divine unfolding.

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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