Both the biblical writers and early theologians rejected any attempt to spare God from the full humiliation of being united to a sinful humanity. While maintaining that Christ did not commit sin, early writers found various ways to express the idea that Christ co-experienced sin, passion, vulnerability, and the depths of human revolt against God. As Hans Urs von Balthasar sums up patristic thinking:“the healing of nature demands a descent to that tragic point in man, where sin, as opposition to God, has come into its own. For sin to be overcome from within, it had, in some way or other, to be found ‘within’ Christ.”
This is part of what Paul calls the “self-emptying” of God. God is revealed precisely in the form of extreme concealment, a condemned man tortured to death on a cross. Divinity is not overwhelming power, but is revealed precisely in self-emptying and self-sacrifice. God’s solidarity with sinners is revealed here. What we see when we see Christ is not only the second person of the Trinity who has come to vanquish sin, nor only the perfect man who provides us a model of redeemed humanity to follow. What we see when we see Christ is the entire drama of sin and salvation acted out on the stage of his one person.
What does it mean, then, to participate in Christ’s body in the Eucharist? It means in part to recognize the shared nature of sin and redemption. True sacrifice is not about creating internal unity by identifying and battling external enemies. In the Body of Christ we acknowledge and repent of the enemy within. In the axiom of the desert fathers, “The beginning of salvation for everyone is to condemn himself.” The desert fathers insisted on taking evil seriously by transferring it from the other to the self, thus advancing the emptying of the self and the loving of the other for who she is, without regard to moral qualities.