Recently, I had one of those moments where things I had been holding, in different parts of my brain, suddenly seemed to fit together. I was writing an assignment on the part of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises where a person contemplates the crucifixion. Part of this is to be with Christ as he suffers in the same way we would sit with a loved one who is dying.

This experience takes us beyond the outward, physical aspects of violence and death. When we enter into the mystery of the Passion we get a glimpse of what God is doing. Tradition speaks clearly that God is “dealing with” sin and fallen nature.

The Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, in his book For the Life of the World defines the ‘fallenness’ of our world like this:

“It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque, and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s gift of the world… The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is in all.”

Life was always meant to be Eucharistic. Humanity was intended to be the priest “offering the World to God and in this offering…was to receive the gift of life.” Jesus himself as God and Man steps up to take humanity’s place and restore its priestly role, in the action of offering and receiving.

God had already given, through the sacrificial system and the festival of Atonement the language to make this clear. The Jewish priests were a foreshadowing of Christ as was the sacrificial offering itself. Jesus in the Last Supper begins to show the disciples the real meaning of these.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI describes this:

“The Ultimate goal of Jesus’ ‘ascent’ is his self offering on the Cross, which supplants the old sacrifices…This ascent into God’s presence leads via the Cross — it is the ascent toward ‘loving to the end’…which is the real mountain of God.”

Calvary is the place of God’s presence. Pope Benedict explains this further, when he describes the Jewish understanding of Atonement:

“The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed — and in the process, human beings represented by the blood are also purified through this contact with God.”

However this remains incomplete until the Incarnation:

“Jesus himself is the presence of the living God. God and man, God and the world, touch one another in him… In his self offering on the Cross, Jesus as it were, brings all the sin of the world deep within the love of God and wipes it away.”

One of the consequences of sin is suffering. Bishop Kallistos Ware (in The Orthodox Way) explains what is happening with an emphasis on this:

“The Incarnation, it was said, is an act of identification and sharing. God saves us by identifying himself with us, by knowing our human experience from the inside…God Incarnate enters into all our experience…not only in the fullness of human life but also the fullness of human death… Christ our healer has assumed into himself everything, even death.”

The Cross isn’t just about humanity. We are often aware of how sin distorts humanity but, says Brian O’Leary, a Jesuit writer, “We have to acknowledge… that salvation comes to us in so far as we are part of community that includes not only all of humanity but also the natural world.”

When Schmemann talks about Humanity’s priestly function, this was to stand in the centre of Creation. “And Adam, when he left the garden where life was to have been Eucharistic — an offering of the world in thanksgiving to God — Adam led the whole world into darkness.”

Christ, the New Adam enters the darkness as The Light of the World to restore the whole of creation. “God acted so that man might understand who he really was” (Schmemann). Humanity, in Christ, once again stood at the centre of Creation, offering it to God.

This has enabled me to reflect on our journey as a group. Since the beginning of Lent we have spent time together working through what God is calling us to be. A central theme has been that we are a Eucharistic community. I am starting to see that this means that Mass is the most important act we do as a community because it is here that we learn what God intends us to be in the whole of our lives. Christ offers himself to us in the sacrament and we, after giving thanks for this, offer ourselves in return. This has to be the attitude that marks out the whole of life as individuals and as a community.