Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Tide of Easter - Reflections on the "at-ONE-ment" of Christ

Easter is a day of great joy and celebration, not only because it is the culmination of the drama of Holy Week, and not only because it is the climax of the entire Lenten experience. It is the grandest celebration of the church because it is the ultimate expression of new life in Christ. Because of the resurrection, we have been set free from the bonds of sin and death. Thanks be to God!

Now that the holy day is over, and the season of “Eastertide” has begun, it is a good time to reflect on the deeper mystery of what I sometimes call the “great trilogy”, the three big events that changed faith history: the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

One of these standing alone would not be enough to save the world. These three pivotal events intertwine to form the sacred story of salvation by grace. It is by the work of God, who crossed over the chasm between the divine and human, that Jesus became what we are so that we can become like he is. It is by the self-emptying love of Christ that we find the ultimate expression of God’s very being and discover the essence of true love. And it is by the immense victory of life over death that we find meaning when we ourselves walk through death’s shadow. These three events shape our spirituality and restore the world to wholeness.

I have never been a fan of teachings related to the concept of “substitutionary atonement.” These teachings revolve around the idea that God had to vindicate himself against himself, because of the blood sacrifice he demanded for sin. So Jesus had to pay the price to purchase our forgiveness from God (when Jesus is, himself, God’s self). I do not mean to caricature a belief that is sacred to many, but for me, it simply doesn’t make any sense. The atonement is not a transaction, a slight of hand, or tricky payoff.

But seeing each of the “great trilogy” of events as an integral part of the salvation story puts the atonement in perspective. I appreciate what the Disciple Bible Study series teaches, that the essence of the atonement is the restorative “at-ONE-ment” action of God. This is what both the cross and the resurrection are about.

The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s self-giving love, and it is the emptiness of the cross that expresses our victory over the grave. The atonement is not some twisted transaction that an angry God required to satisfy himself. It is the most extreme, life-changing, earth-cleansing expression of the very nature of God’s stubborn love. God refused to give up on us, on a world that kept “going to pot” on its own. And the grace of God’s love is what transforms the cross into victory.

Easter is not about avoiding God’s judgment. It is about embracing God’s grace! We must never stop at thinking Easter is our ticket to heaven. It is about more than personal salvation. It is about the world’s redemption.