How strangely easy it is to take for granted that God, the eternal God, entered time. That this does not change His eternity. That it changes time. That the flesh on the cross is God’s flesh. That in this way eternity changes time.
We say in the academy that modern thought has achieved a new historical awareness. We say that, more than any other time before, we are aware of how history marks us. Divides us. Shapes what we say, and how. Everything is history and context. We know, we know with something like angst, that we are deeply woven into time. Nothing escapes time.
Eternity dissolves into the far-off, the impossible, the dreamed-for lie of the past. Or it becomes the construct upon which we heap our hope and fear and blame. Eternity is reduced to non-time and non-place. Eternity fades into death, which is eternal because it cannot be undone. So that is what eternity becomes: what cannot be undone. Forever is an end.
History absolves us of metaphysics. Of the beyond-physical. Since everything is historical, it is sometimes argued, we cannot bother with the laws of what is. What “is,” what exists and persists, is always in flux. The flux of time. Everything is history. Metaphysics is at best a dream, at worst a lie. Or perhaps a word game. Even many who would rescue metaphysics, that strange old art, feel compelled to give it “dynamism” that it lacked. It must move, as if in time. Metaphysics becomes history transposed onto being.
How strange, the God who looks down on us from the cross. The eternal God, in flesh that suffers. With a soul, a human soul, that suffers. The eternal God. The unchanging God.
Is it so easy as history? Or so simple as non-history? Is time the death of eternal meaning, and eternity the death of time? We cannot understand ourselves without history. We are creatures of time. But can we understand time without metaphysics?
And beyond metaphysics, within and through metaphysics, surpassing the physical in the physical: the eternal God on the cross. In time, beyond time, within and through – surpassing time in time: the eternal God on the cross. The Son, the only Son, on the cross.
Suffering requires time. It requires change. It means that some darkness passes over and through us, and the passover requires time. How fitting, and how strange, that God comes to us in the Passover. That one of the Trinity has suffered. The Son, the Lamb, paschal victim and priest.
Do we see the strangeness? The eternal God greeting us in time. Where we live and breathe, in time. The God who does not change, entering time – which is always change, always motion – and yet not changing. It is time that shifts, time that moves. Because it always moves, and God moves it.
Suffering requires time. God has entered time, and changed suffering. God greets us in time, and in suffering.
He is always with us, in time. Not as part of the past, but as a part of time – in time and surpassing time, moving time and unmoved by time. History no longer robs us of presence. No longer dissolves merely into death, into an eternity that is an end. No, now time has an end – by which I mean a goal, a fulfillment. When we say that time ends, we do not mean that it dies. We mean that it is surpassed into eternity, which is not simply the death of time.
He is always with us, in time. Though time must mean we die.
Philosophers say that we all die alone. That no one can die with us, or be with us through death. We are suddenly, absolutely alone when we die.
How fitting, how strange, that the eternal God who greets us in flesh, greets us in our final Eucharist. The “viaticum,” the grace for the final way. How strange and how fitting that we taste God then, in the surpassing reach through time into eternity. There is one, only one, who passes through death with us.
There is grace for the way, grace for time, grace in time, to bring it to eternity.