We celebrate Mass and try to cling to Christ throughout the entire year, of course. But I think everyone knows that for one ninety-day period we celebrate Christ’s mystery in an especially intense manner. [Click AQUI por Spanish.]
We keep the anniversary of the Redemption of the world with the first full moon of spring. For forty days before that, we fast. And for fifty days afterwards, we feast. Today we conclude the ninety-day liturgical extravaganza of Lent and Easter.
Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the man Who bears on His brow a unique crown. Jesus of Nazareth wears God, the Holy Spirit, as a crown on His Head.
We began the ninety days with a kind of crown of our own–an unusual one: ashes. We confronted the fact that life on earth is short. God formed us out of dust, so to dust we naturally return. We languish as weak sinners, and a curse of meaningless emptiness hangs over us–unless we seek and find God. We faced all these facts, and we put them on, like a crown on our heads, in the form of a cross of ashes. We wore that “crown” in order to declare: ‘Yes, we are weak, sinful mortals!’
Then, forty days later, we saw Jesus crowned. Not with the earthly kingship of Israel, but with a crown of thorns. Only the malice of fallen man could come up with something so perverse–crowning the Messiah with thorn branches twisted into a cruel diadem. Even though Jesus had not sinned; even though He Himself is the Life that can turn the dust of the earth into living flesh; not grasping after His prerogatives, Jesus took the curse of human injustice and death upon Himself. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with the thorns that we sinners deserve.
Jesus bled for us, and died. But the power of His life conquered and overcame. They removed the crown of thorns after He gave up His spirit, and they laid Him in the tomb to start the sabbath. But when the women came to complete the burial anointings on Sunday morning, Jesus had already left the whole business of death behind Him. The Father had crowned Him with life again.
Christ breathed the life-giving Spirit on His friends that very day, as we hear in Sunday’s gospel reading at Holy Mass. But He waited another fifty days to crown them with His Spirit. On Pentecost, as we hear in the first reading, He poured out the Gift–wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and holy fear–He poured the Spirit down upon His chosen ones, crowning them with God–just as He had been crowned with God from the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb.
Now, there’s nothing vague about the spiritual crowning of Pentecost. Sometimes people talk about the Holy Spirit as if He were a cloud of niceness. Or they think the Holy Spirit has come whenever you agree with them.
But we can’t cheapen the Gift of Pentecost like this. Jesus promised something very specific when He told the Apostles that He would give them His Spirit. He told them, “The Advocate will take from what is mine and give it to you.”
What exactly belongs to Christ, which the Holy Spirit gives to us? Well, everything belongs to Christ, of course, since He is God Almighty. But the thing that belongs especially to the incarnate Son is: the Redemption of man. The eternal Word, the Wisdom of the Father, became man in order to redeem man. He wore the crown of thorns to accomplish this. That crown of bitter suffering rests now, like a trophy, beside the empty cross. The victorious Redeemer reigns on high, giving freedom and new life to His people through His Spirit.
It’s a little sad that these ninety days of spiritual intensity have run their course. It’s like the whole Church goes on a kind of prayer retreat every spring, with the Sacred Liturgy of Lent and Easter lifting us up to the contemplation of Christ’s conquest in Jerusalem.
Now we must leave the retreat house, so to speak, and face the mission at hand. Namely, to participate–as He calls us to participate–in the redemption of man, by our fervent prayers and tireless deeds.
But we stride forward with our crowns resting securely on our heads. The crown of God’s heavenly Gift, our share in the anointing of the Anointed One.
Yes, we are dust and ashes, arcing toward inevitable death. Yes, the innocent Lamb had to wear a crown of thorns for our sins. But He has redeemed us by His gracious Gift. The curse over us has been lifted. And we wear on our brows the holy diadem that marks us as children of the household of God, consecrated for eternal life.