St Paul’s Cathedral, Springfield
Some years ago there was a word that—as they might say these days in social media—“trended” for a while. It was formerly heard only among ivory tower academics, but for a while there, anyone who wanted to sound profound while making small talk at a social gathering would try to work in the word is “paradigm”, usually connected with the word “shift” to form the temporarily ubiquitous expression, “paradigm shift.”
A paradigm, is a set of “givens”, a body of assumptions that are considered too obvious to mention. For instance, in the physical paradigm that we live in, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the days get longer until about the fourth week in June, then they start getting shorter until about the fourth week in December, wood floats, iron sinks, and when you drop a ball it falls to the ground. There are also social and moral and religious paradigms. From these come obvious assumptions that seem unquestionable, such as: the stronger will be victorious over the weaker, a wise person knows more than a fool, the rich have plenty to eat and the poor go hungry, those who have power use that power to their own advantage, while nice guys finish last.
The classic works of Lewis Carroll—Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are so enduringly appealing precisely because they tantalize us with the refreshing possibility that there is such a thing as “outside” the paradigm. They tempt us with the notion that a universe exists where a word can mean whatever we say it means, that two plus two does not have to equal four, and the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line.
Good Friday—the cross of Christ—serves notice to us, and to all the spiritual powers of the universe, that God exists completely outside anyone else’s paradigm. God is not bound by anyone else’s notion of reality or fantasy, up or down, right or wrong. God does not play by the rules. The cross tells us that what is foolishness for us is wisdom for God. The cross tells us that an instrument of shameful death is the way of life and peace. The cross tells us that strength is found in weakness, that victory is found in surrender. The cross tells us that possessing is found in letting go, that healing is found in suffering. The cross tells us that life is found in death. The cross tells us that the sinful children of sinful Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, are heirs of the kingdom of heaven and sons and daughters of the most high God.
And in so telling us of all these infractions of the rules, all these instances of God acting completely outside our paradigm, the cross becomes the royal banner that shines mystically in our darkness, proclaiming the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of redemption through a suffering servant. The cross becomes that one and only noble tree whose foliage and blossom and fruit are without peer, a tree whose wooden limbs and iron leaves gently tend the king of heavenly beauty, a tree which becomes a throne, a throne from which he who is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, reigns in suffering majesty. The earth quakes, the veil of the temple is torn, sunset turns to sunrise—the paradigm is shifted—and the universe re-created.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.