Saturday, April 7, 2007

What the Death of Jesus doesn't mean...

Holy Thursday
April 5, 2007
“What the death of Jesus doesn’t mean”
The Rev. Sare Gordy

Atonement. The definition of atonement, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church is, (hu)man(ity)’s reconciliation with God through the sacrificial death of (Jesus) Christ.

As we’ve heard on Palm Sunday, for those where were there with us, this is something that makes sense if a) you’re Rabbi-Messiah was just executed by the occupying empire, which you now need to make sense of, somehow, and b) if your world view is consistent with the IDEA that God is so pure and good that for us to approach God in life or death would require some really large act of sacrifice, the likes of which only God himself could produce, because we are not good enough as it is.

If that is true, if these two things are true, then the idea of atonement makes sense. But of course, that isn’t our world view, and our Messiah wasn’t JUST killed by the empire. We are a people who crave both mystery and facts, so let’s look at both.

We know for a fact there was injustice at the time of Jesus. There was the oppression from the Roman occupying forces, there was the injustices from the Jewish authorities who were complicit with the Romans, and there was the Temple cult who had a monopoly on access to God. Everyone was exploited, but particularly hard hit were the poor. There was injustice. We know this for a fact.

We know for a fact that there was a prophet-healer from Galilee who rebelled against injustice, but rebelled without violence. He had an ideology, a philosophy, an understanding of god that was both different from the others at the time, and yet so compelling that he had many followers and there were many fantastic and inspiring stories about him.

We know that the way of life this prophet-healer embraced for himself and encouraged others to embrace was love, acceptance, caring, and compassion at the deepest and most honest level within the self, and at the grassroots level in the community. The implications, the living out of this philosophy gave power to the powerless and also gave good reason for the Roman Empire to have him killed.

So we really have two side-by-side ideas, here: One is heavily laden with mystery, the other is heavily laden with fact.

We have a God who requires a sacrifice so large only Godself would do – a sacrifice that allows God to love us, a sacrifice that makes us finally loveable and approachable – this is the general idea of atonement as it is said to be lived out in the life, or more specifically, the death of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s one idea.

The other idea is that we have this body of teachings, this idea of the Kingdom of Heaven that we need to participate in, that is so radical, so revolutionary, so wonderful that it has the potential to change the entire way we do business in the world, and that the harbinger of this way, the teacher who taught and inspired was so one with god, that in a sense he WAS God – and so the fact that he was executed by the stae, by thte empire takes nothing away from his life or teachings, but rather adds credence to the imperative that this world NEEDS the transformation he preached.

These are two side-by-side ideas. The atonement is the older, traditional way of thinking. The second, the Kingdom Philosophy, is older still, but not so universal these days. They are both valid ways of experiencing Christianity, if by valid we mean, “is capable of producing a deeply compassionate relationship with God and Creation – including all of Humanity.”

The problem – maybe the only problem – is when either of these ways of understanding the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth DOESN’T produce such compassion.

But perhaps there is another problem as well – when one point of view says to another – you are so wrong, there’s nothing remotely of interest over there, so really, everyone just needs to do it our way, period the end. :P

Well, that has been more or less the case for yea, the past many centuries – atonement has been the doctrine of the day, and if you don’t believe – if you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, if you don’t believe the Lamb of god was sacrificed for you, then you’re not really Christian, so there.

But of course, that is not so.

If the idea of atonement works for you, produced as compassionate heart within you- great! And if you don’t find that idea compelling, know that there is more than one way to understand why Jesus died – what it means, and what it doesn’t.

Stay tuned.

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