When my wife and I were still dating, I was visiting her parents for Thanksgiving. There I found a book called “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. It looked interesting enough, so I read it and was blown away by it. It is still one of my favorite books.
Towards the beginning, Yann writes about a young Hindu boy named Pi wandering into a Catholic Cathedral and searching the paintings for a depiction of the Catholic God.
He sees a painting of women crying and angels hovering overhead and a dove. He studies it awhile, trying to figure out which one of these creatures is “The God.” Then his eyes rest on the crucifix and slowly it dawns on him, “This is their God.”
Little Pi finds that idea both horrific and magnetic. Pi tells us, “If the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real. And Father Martin assured me it was. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even when resurrected. The Son must always have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God our Father.” (Life of Pi, 68)
This poetic paragraph captures the harrowing irony at the heart of our faith, that our God died. Whatever it means to die (whether going to hell, Hades, nonexistence, becoming a ghost, separation, etc) our God experienced. And by going all the way to death and descending all the way to where dead souls go, God redeemed all death and all life.
That experience of death is now integral to the Trinity. God dying was not a tangent theology in our faith. It was not a fun little story to tell our kids every Spring. Nor was it a silly business transaction that was soon forgotten amidst all the other heavenly business. Instead, it was a world altering, earth shattering event. It forever changed the way we relate to God and the way we relate to each other and even the rest of Creation.
But the irony goes deeper than that. Our God didn’t just die. We killed him. One of the great ironies of the Christian proclamation is that the Creator of the entire universe lived among us. He walked where we walk and talked like we talk. But He did it all in the right way. He lived a perfect, sinless, authentic life. . .and we killed him.
If you read the gospels you find we mostly killed him out of envy and fear. We were scared he might take over and depose us. We were envious because he had more followers and could do cool magic tricks. And so we killed him before He could do any real harm to our fragile egos.
And yet, in the killing, in the death, we accidentally crowned him King! After all, the crown (albeit of thorns), the purple robe and the sign above his head on the cross are all typical markers of a coronation. The trial and crucifixion, read another way, are the movements of a coronation ceremony. So, scared that Jesus just might become King, we killed Him and in so doing, made Him King. It is quite the irony.
And it is this irony we celebrate today. Our God has come. Our God has died. We killed our God. But in so doing we unleashed the very power of love to all creation.
Today as we join little Pi in our churches and stare up at the cross wondering, “Could this really be God?” and as we wonder at the love that held Him there, while certainly calling to mind our own sinfulness, may that almighty grace flow forth from the King who forgives, who reconciles, who redeems and who gives out eternal and abundant life!