We are still about three weeks away from Easter but I’m gonna get a jump on things and offer a little Easter theology to get us warmed up.
Now, I love a good bluegrass gospel song as much as the next middle-aged southern white chick,
but while reading through a Lenten liturgy recently I just became flummoxed to the point of silence over the language that has long since ceased to work in the heart and mind of this Christian. And when I am struck mute, I write.
See, I am the sort of Christian that is not theologically down with the whole substitutionary atonement thing – especially penal.
First is the deeply disturbing (and some would say heretical) idea of a God that would NEED a sacrifice of one innocent to pay for the sins of the rest of our sorry asses. A blood thirsty God is frankly a warped vision of the Divine cast in our own vengeful image. Second is the more esoteric question of HOW exactly such a sacrifice would pay for “sins”? There simply has been no answer to this question that I have encountered in my reading, praying, discerning life that satisfactorily answers this big fat how.
But about the Cross – we are not washed clean by his blood, we are convicted as a cruel and blind race that will execute our God when God comes to us as a poor man healing on the sabbath, overturning the worship of Mammon in the temple, confronting the religious elite and challenging the authority of the state.
We are not saved by the crucifixion, we are damned by it – or we could have been. Let us face that shameful dark day and accept our culpability – knowing that if Jesus returned today to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed His blood would likely run in rivulets once again. And let us move through that desolate Saturday knowing what we have done. And let us arise on Easter surprised by Grace.
We can look to the empty tomb and know that we are redeemed by the forgiveness of a God who could have at any time saved himself from torture and an excruciating, humiliating death. We are freed by a God that could have laid waste to a universe of weak and frightened creatures who would whip, strip and nail their God to a cross to die the death of a criminal. But that’s not how the story goes eh? Our God suffers at our hands, allows us to mock and scorn the love offered, falls dead into our arms and goes willing to the tomb that we would seal for all time. And then the most radical thing that a God can do happens – God emerges from the bonds of death, walks and talks with a woman and reveals the ultimate truth – God is Love. Jesus does not return to punish the world who had rejected him. Jesus emerges with wounded hands outstretched in love and forgiveness.
Here’s how Christian from another tribe says it.
“For me, the suffering of Jesus is a sacrament of the love of God. The story tells us that God willingly soaks up all of our systemic injustice, personal evil and violence and returns only love.
So, God is no distant deity in some pure heaven far away. God is with us on earth in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims that love is more powerful than hate, compassion triumphs over oppression, and vulnerability overcomes power. Jesus invites us to put our trust in God, even in the face of horror, oppression, cruelty and death. God is with us. God feels and suffers deeply with us. And, what God does best is to bring life out of death.”
The Rev. Lowell E. Grisham
Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
As we work our way closer to the Cross this season I invite you to explore Christian theology that does not begin with a God that needs a blood sacrifice to settle the score. I invite you to walk with a God that has shown us what true power looks like – love, compassion and forgiveness.
I agree with much of what you expressed in your blog about God overtaking our evil with His love. Yes and Amen! But I can not dismiss the thread of the story of redemption that is in every book of the Bible. There was an exchange that happen in the garden when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Through partaking of that fruit they were saying we want to be like God and do things in our own power and strength. A deal was bartered on behalf of humankind through their decision with the enemy of our souls satan. If there is no redemption we get stuck there in a vicious cycle of works and trying to figure life out on our own in our own limited knoweldge and strength I need to be saved from myself I need God to transform me from the inside out. I need Him to rescue me and nullify the power that the enemy of my soul wants to exercise over me becuase of the decision my far off ancestors Adam and Eve did. Now that Christ has died and is raised we can now be free from the vicious cycle of sin and the fruit it produces in our lives. I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live and the live I live now I live by the faith of the one who loved me and gave Himself for me. My life is no longer my own I have been bought with a price. Greater is he that is in me than he who is in the world. No greater love is there than someone would layi down their life for another. I am sure nothing I am saying will change your mind but respnding to your blog is helping me to put into words what Christ’s substitutionary death means to me and for that I thank you!
I understand your theological underpinning, but I faithfully, respectfully and adamantly disagree with much of it, especially the parts that appear to be literal readings of texts that were never intended to Ben read literally/factually. I also wholly disagree with the notion of a God that requires a blood sacrifice to save us from God’s own (somewhat sociopathic) wrath. I appreciate the time and heart shared in your comment, but the story of redemption through out the Bible can be and is read through radically different lenses by many Christians.