Monday, April 2, 2012

Grounded in love and freedom

Lenten Meditation 2 April 2012

            “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.  This grounds Christianity in love and freedom from the very beginning; it creates a very coherent and utterly attractive religion, which draws people toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing and even universal “at-one-ment,” instead of mere sacrificial atonement.   Nothing “changed” on Calvary, but everything was revealed so we could change.”  (Page 200)

The Crucifixion , by Vouet, 1622, Genoa
            I have posited before that we human beings have a deep seated need—one might say we are hardwired—to require sacrifice, particularly someone else’s sacrifice, in order for the world to have meaning.  We glorify self-sacrifice in combat situations where a soldier (or sailor or Marine) gives his life to save his comrades. (I am fully aware of the women who are serving in our armed forces, many of whom are as deserving of awards for valor as their male counterparts.) The majority of Medals of Honor are awarded posthumously, and we all, those with military backgrounds and civilians alike, stand in awe of the heroism required.  Our country’s history is replete with military strife, from Bunker Hill to Afghanistan; we celebrate the red stripes on our flag to honor the blood shed to carry freedom to our own generation and hopefully for generations to come. 

            Without denigrating any of the sacrifice of everyone who has ever put on a military uniform to protect our freedoms, whether serving in a combat situation or not, I am not willing to make Christianity the equivalent of American patriotism, with Jesus as General Patton (or insert your favorite military leader) who brings salvation by force and violence.  Not one time in any of the Gospels do I see Jesus either commend violence for others or exercise it himself, with the possible exception of the “cleansing of the Temple,” and even there the force of the whip is directed primarily toward the animals to get them out of the Court of the Gentiles.  (John 2:14-16)  Even as he is being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus condemns the violence against the servant of the high priest (Luke 22:51; John 18:11) and against the soldiers and the Temple leadership armed with “swords and clubs” who had come to arrest Jesus.

            From the beginning of Genesis through the final chapter of the Revelation to John, we are given an image of God as a lover of all of God’s creation.  In the initial story of creation, Genesis 1:1-2:4a, we hear that God is delighted with the evolving world as God creates it.  Even in the second creation account, Genesis 2:4b-3:24, which includes the forming of First Man (Ish, later called Adam by God), the removal of the rib to form First Woman (Ishshah later named Eve by Adam), the introduction of the Serpent, temptation and sin and the consequences for that sin, we continue to see God who cares so much about his creatures that he clothes them and provides a means of sustenance for them.  Even the first reported act of violence—Abel murdered by Cain—is not met with violence against the perpetrator by God; Cain is sent away and marked as protection against further violence.  Again and again, God calls humanity into relationship with God, but repeatedly we fail to accept the gracious invitations.  In fact, on occasion we human beings slay the bearers of God’s invitation to reconciliation, the prophets.  The final move to bring us into the deepening relationship that God so longs for is the coming of the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, who offers Himself “to reveal the lie and the absurdity of the very notion of sacrificial religion itself.”  (Page 201)  Remember, “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son…” (John 3-16-17) 

            “The cross is about how to fight and not become a casualty yourself.  The cross is about being the victory instead of just winning a victory.  It is a way of winning that tries to bring along your opponents with you. … What the mystery of the cross teaches us is how to stand against hate without becoming hate, how to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves.” (Page 203)  Even though much of the popular theology in our culture, some of the hymn texts in the Hymnal 1982, and even some of our liturgical language which is the product of Anselm’s theology of substitution and payment to God for sin to redeem us, I believe the Scriptures give us another theological option.  Violence begets violence; Jesus absorbs the violence of this world and refuses to pay it back “in kind.”  He becomes the “suffering servant” of Isaiah who accepts the humiliation, brutality, and death and helps us to see a religion not of “redemptive violence” but of ”redemptive suffering,” as Father Rohr describes.  Easily, Jesus the Son of God could have called down Archangel Michael and the Angelic Army to destroy his enemies, but he takes into Himself the anger and hatred of the ages and defeats them with His love for all creation.  The totality of His life and death becomes for us an icon, a pattern, the “way, the truth, and the life” to walk in His footsteps.

            I do not believe that Jesus’ Passion and Death are debt payment to Satan or to God; rather Jesus accepts willingly the path of the Cross to transform our human need from having violence direct our lives to revealing God’s love for us in a way that we could not otherwise understand.  The sublime act of Jesus changes who we are in relationship to God.  Through the Way of the Cross we can begin to understand that the relationship that binds together the Persons of the Trinity is one of equality and love, without dominance being brought to bear by any one against the others.  God had spent human history telling God’s people about relationship, but we would not—even could not—listen because the truth was too good to be true.  And we all know that if something is too good to be true, then it isn’t true, or at least that is what we have been told most of our lives.  The only way for God to get beyond our disbelief is to become “one of us”, human but without the sin that besets each of us, and take our anger and hatred and absorb them in order to offer transformation for all who will accept His invitation to become as Jesus to those we meet.

            We who have been “born from above” or “born again” (John 3) begin our new life as vital parts of Jesus’ living body (I Corinthians 12) in order to carry on the work of the Christ where God calls us to be.  Like Jesus, we are to reflect the relationship of the beloved we have with God in order to draw others into healing and wholeness, expressing God’s love, not God’s domineering power, offering God’s welcome as the prodigious parent to the wastrel child without conditions.  This is what being “little Christ”—Christian—is all about.  This is the transformation God offers to everyone, but it is my responsibility and yours to “proclaim by word and example” the Good News that we have been given freely.  We cannot do anything to make God love us, or even love us more, because God’s love precedes everything.  We show others the love that God has shown us in so far as we are willing to allow our selves, our souls and bodies, be transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus.

            Through the rest of this week, meditate on the myriad ways in which God has offered God’s love to you.  Ponder how you might show that same love to your family, to your companions at work or at play, to the stranger you meet, to yourself.  Pray for the courage and strength to become good news in difficult moments and to transform those moments as Jesus would transform them.  And then go forth in the name of God.

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