Monday, April 9, 2012
April 8, 2012 - Easter Reflection by Rev. David Boyd
Branding and marketing have become cornerstones of wanting to have a successful business or enterprise in today's world. Companies pay big money to have their logo or brand displayed in a movie or television program. Studies have been done that show young children, toddlers even, recognize brands and logos. In today's world, for good or for ill, it is important to get your name out there.
This is no less true for the Church. Why then, do you suppose, that at the two most important times of the year, when we have visitors and perhaps the curious coming to church to check us out, do we emphasize the fact that we are depraved and totally sinful and that it is our fault that Jesus died on the cross? Even at Christmas time we sing "Joy to the World" with the third verse: "No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground: he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found." For Isaac Watts, steeped in 18th century theology and the Dawn of the Enlightenment, the curse is in each of us.
On Good Friday, we sang the hymn, "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Has Thou Offended?" The second verse reads, "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee. I crucified thee.'" And today, some of our Easter hymns allude to the fact that we caused Jesus' death and suffering on the cross.
Is it any wonder that the sociological study after study has shown that people who do not go to church and who do not know much about the church feel that they are judged as evil sinners by the church? When our major feast days of joy and gladness still emphasize that note of judgement, that the world is an evil and depraved place and that we are all part of that condition and need God to release us from this evil scourge, how will we invite people to join us.
This theology that we have inherited is not the Easter theology of the early Church; it was the note the Easter theology of Paul, the 1st major theologian. There was some sense of Jesus dying for our sins in 1st Peter and Hebrews, but that was only part of a greater theological belief that God was the giver of life and that life had the last word. This is the Biblical meaning of John's Gospel, and Mark and Luke. This is what we find in the Christian Scriptures, even in Revelation.
Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities, with the approval of some Jewish religious leaders, because Jesus challenged the economic policies of his day. He challenged the fact that people were being exploited, that innocent people were being crucified, that the Jewish religious teachers had turned their back on the Torah and on the message of the Prophets. Jesus challenged the day and age in which we lived to be more just, more about love of neighbour and love of God, more about kinship and relationship. Some scholars argue that Jesus came to proclaim a whole Way, not of judgement and condemnation, but of light, of compassion, of grace, of justice, of freedom, of forgiveness, of life. Jesus was crucified because he dared to stand up to the powers of Rome that and its so-called plan for peace.
Jesus was not crucified because of individual sin. Even in the few places of the Christian Scriptures that speak of Jesus dying for our sins it is more the idea that sin does exist in the world, but this sin is about participation in injustice and oppression. When we do not stand up for each other for a just cause, or when a brother or a sister faces oppression and lack of freedom, when poverty grinds so many people down and we do nothing about it, we participate in sin and Jesus died for this. Jesus died because he affirmed the power of life and love in the world, that we are blessed and capable of wondrous acts of justice and love and compassion.
The idea that Jesus died for our individual sins is a relatively new development in theology. It arose out of the feudal world and reached its zenith in the teachings of Anselm who said that God became a human being in order for salvation to occur; but because people are inherently depraved and sinful creatures, salvation could only be brought about by God—not by humans—so God had to become human. But since the only way to become one with God was for God to require a sacrifice for this atonement, death had to occur. And therefore the emphasis on becoming one with God is on the death of Jesus rather than the gift of life. This is the belief in a nutshell.
This is not what the early Church proclaimed. Anselm and others constructed this theology as a means of power and control. What Easter proclaims and Christmas, too, is that our God cares deeply for this lifeÑthis incarnational livingÑto such a degree that God would become part of it. Not as an act of judgement but as a note of affirmation. Jesus came to be among us as a sign of God's deep love for the world... God so loved the world. God knew that people were suffering and that there was an emphasis on being hurtful and oppressive. God wanted to point back to creation to say loudly and with energy, "I am the God of life... and it is good! Life is good. Celebrate life."
We do that here today, celebrate life! Jesus was crucified because he dared to affirm that life is good! That we need not put up with leaders and authorities that oppress and deny the various ways that we experience the wonder of life. Jesus died because he was a threat. But death was not the last word. Life is the last word. God is the God of life and God raised Jesus to life to affirm once again that death and oppression and injustice and grief and loss hold no power. Life holds power. The life of love and blessing holds power. The mystery and wonder of relationships hold power!
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