Friday, April 10, 2009

GOOD FRIDAY: "By his wounds, we are healed"

Watch on video here.

LESSON: John 19:17-27

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.


They stood at the foot of the cross knowing that the end was near. The life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly in the Jesus they knew as son, teacher, leader and friend was about to be extinguished. All that would remain of the rabbi from Nazareth was a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers. Only the women and the beloved disciple remained. The Kingdom he proclaimed had not come. The powerful remained powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed -- and where there had been hope there is only despair.

And yet we call this Friday “Good.” That is at least in part because even as we stand together at the foot of the cross this afternoon we know that Easter’s a’comin’. The lilies may be offstage and the Peeps still in their plastic wrap, but pretty soon we’ll be back here again – with a whole lot more people – singing “Alleluia, Alleluia!” – celebrating the mystery of faith in a Eucharistic Prayer that proclaims, “By his blood he reconciled us; by his wounds we are healed.”
“By his wounds we are healed.” What exactly does that mean, anyway? How does what happened on a hill in Palestine in the first century have anything to do with what’s happening in Pasadena in the 21st? What are we reconciled to by his blood? How are we healed by his wounds?

There’s one answer to those questions that goes something like this – [with thanks to James Alison]: God created the world and all was well. The first human beings lived in paradise until the day they broke the one commandment God had given them God was very angry and threw them out of paradise. Their descendents kept on being disobedient and God kept on being angry.

God was in a quandary. Part of him wanted to be merciful, but he could not deny that he was also just, and the continued sin was an affront to his very honor. And the problem was that human beings could never make up for what they had done. They just didn’t have it in them. And yet they had to do something.

So God decided to send his Son into the world as a human being. As a human being he could pay the price of sin, but since he was also God, that payment would be eternal. It would be enough to appease God’s anger. So Jesus died for our sins, took upon himself the price that we couldn’t pay and God wiped the slate clean. Now if any human being agrees to have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus, they are saved.

That’s one answer – one way of telling the story of how “by his wounds we are healed.”
And it is a way of telling the story has dominated in the church for almost 1,000 years. It has been so dominant that many Christians cannot imagine there is any other way of telling the story. But here’s a Good Friday News Flash: It is not the only way to understand the words “By his wounds we are healed.”
In fact, for the first 1,000 years of the church’s life there was a different way of telling the story dominated Christian theology – a different answer to the question. And the answer started with Jesus. And that answer goes like this:

When Jesus talked about his death he used this parable: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. For those first thousand years of the church’s life, Jesus’ death and resurrection were primarily about death, not about sin. Jesus died and then rose victorious from the grave.

The main story line (for the first 1000 of Christian faith) was not “Jesus died for our sins,” but “Jesus died to destroy the power of death.” After Jesus’ death and resurrection, humankind could live as if death were not. They could live healed from the fear of death.

There was no angry God; no atoning sacrifice. Instead there was the paradigmatic example of the One who loved us enough to become one of us not only to show us how to love one another but who loved us enough to die in order to rise again to heal us of our amnesia about the love of God so great that it transcends death. Even death on a cross.

“By his wounds we are healed.”

Jesus heals us because Jesus saves us from our fear. In penetrating the boundary between life and death Jesus assures us that the crossing over at the end of this earthly life is to something very real. With that assurance, Jesus saves us from the fear of death that is such an existential fear that it can paralyze us into trying to control the bits of life we can wrap our hands around rather than letting go to receive the abundance of life God would have us receive. His resurrection tells us that we need not live our life in fear of that crossing over and sets us free. And free from that fear we ARE liberated to embrace the abundant life that God has made known to us in Jesus. Jesus saves us from worrying so much about getting to heaven that we’re too paralyzed by fear to get busy helping to bring heaven to earth.

“By his wounds we are healed.”

We are healed because more important than the death Jesus died was the life Jesus lived – a life so in alignment with God’s will – God’s love – that he was “obedient even unto death.”

Not obedient to a vengeful God who sent Jesus as a blood sacrifice – to a death that was the inevitable result of humanity’s abject sinfulness for which we should still wallow in guilt and shame.

Rather, what is good about Good Friday is that Jesus was obedient to the love of a God so great that it enabled him to transcend the FEAR of death as he walked the way of the cross – as he chose to drink the cup he had been given even as he questioned up until the very last moment whether there wasn’t another way to accomplish the work he had been given to do.

I am always grateful for my friend, mentor and brother-priest Michael Hopkins – but this week I was especially grateful for him because his sermon last week provided not only my “Good Friday News Flash” but included this great summary of the Good News of Good Friday:

Jesus freely gave himself up to death and destroyed it once and for all. That means you and I don’t have to be afraid of death and part of that not-being-afraid is knowing ourselves to be forgiven.

I hope you can see what a different way of telling the story that is from the crucifixion as satisfying the vengeance of an angry God. Of course you can find pieces of Scripture that support that way of telling the story, but the alternative way has as much support in Scripture -- as well as the thinking of the early church.

At the end of the day, we get to decide which lens to use to read the story. And I choose to use the “victory over death” lens rather than the “satisfying the vengeance of God” lens.

And so do I. And so may you. Or not. That’s the beauty of being an Anglican – or at least that has historically been the beauty of being an Anglican. Remember – whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, there is a place for you here. Here at the foot of this cross this Good Friday. Here at the altar rail on Easter Sunday. Here in the life and work and witness of All Saints Church.

The witness we have to offer the world – the witness we call turning the human race into the human family -- has nothing to do with some doctrinal litmus test. It has nothing to do with which story you choose to claim the power of cross in your own life and journey. Instead, it has everything to do with what Frederick Buechner names as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world.

The Good News this Good Friday is that we follow the One who proclaimed a love too radical, too inclusive, too dangerous to the status quo to survive without a struggle -- then or now. It is an amazing irony that the very Jesus who gave his life to show us how to love each other has had that message of reconciliation hijacked by those who would make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven about the Dictates of Doctrine rather than about the Lordship of Love.

The Good News this Good Friday is we stand at the foot of the cross knowing that the way of the cross is part of the journey – not the destination. The destination is the resurrection – and our passport is an empty tomb that frees us to live lives of perfect freedom: free from the fear of death. Without the cross, the resurrection couldn’t have happened. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. But because it did – because of the Good News of this Good Friday -- we are freed to be fully alive by the power of the resurrection – healed, whole and liberated in this life and the next.

“By his wounds we are healed.”

I’ll close with a story – a story I’ve told before but bears retelling as we each claim our own way of telling the story of God’s liberating love:

When my son Jamie was in kindergarten the week right before Easter was “Letter E” week and all the children had drawn pictures of an “E” word – pictures of Easter. I remember looking at the bulletin board on the wall where twenty pictures Easter were proudly displayed -- of a green hill with three crosses … some with flowers, a few with trespassing Easter bunnies … nineteen of them alike but different in their best kindergarten way … and then there was the twentieth. Down in the far, right hand corner … the one without a cross or even a bunny in sight … the one mostly green with a chunk of gray and a splash of yellow … the one that said “Jamie Russell on it.”

I know enough now to know that the right question to have asked would have been “Tell me about your picture, honey” – but I was a first-time mom and said instead (I’m embarrassed to admit) “I thought you were supposed to draw a picture of Easter, honey.” And he looked at me with a five-year-old version of ill-disguised distain and said to me, “It IS a picture of Easter, Mom. Easter isn’t about crosses – it’s about the empty tomb.” And then I could see it – the green hill, the gray stone rolled away from it, the light coming out from it … Christ was risen, indeed—once I recognized the resurrection!

My prayer this Good Friday is that we not only be given the grace to receive the healing liberating power of the cross on our journey – but that we be given the grace to recognize the resurrection that is our destination whenever and wherever we see it. And may the God who gives the gift of living lives healed of the fear of death also give us also give us the grace to share that life abundant with the whole human family -- this Good Friday -- this Easter and always. Amen.



O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, you made us in you own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on your whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and peoples may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


DavidJustinLynch said...

It's about time the Church gets away from Penal Substitution, Ransom, and Satisfaction. Cosmic Child Abuse has no place in Christianity. I'm a combination of Moral Influence and Christus Victor. May I recommend Joel Baker, "The Scandal of the Cross", Denny Weaver, "Non-Violent Atonement?" Marcus Borg has also written several books about Jesus that head in the same general direction.

Hiram said...

Interesting thoughts - but I must admit to being curious. If the early church's proclamation was "Jesus has conquered death," why do we have Peter talking about forgiveness of sins in his speeches in Acts?

The reading from Acts concludes with Peter saying to Cornelius and his friends, "He (Jesus) commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who receives forgiveness of sins through his name." In his first sermon in Acts 2, Peter called upon his hearers to repent and to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

It seems to me that you are not seeking to free the church from "the dictates of doctrine" so much as to replace the classic doctrines with new ones of your own. If you were really inclusive, you could accept those who uphold substitutionary atonement as being one variety of theories of the atonement.

As for being Anglican - have you read the 1549 and1559 Prayer Books? The 39 Articles? The Homilies dealing with Christ's death? Hooker? Jewel? They are all clear on Jesus' death being needed to forgive sins and to bring reconciliation between a sinful humanity and a holy, pure God. I do not have time to go into it, but I do not think that you have an understanding of God's righteous wrath at sin.


Thanks for stopping by, Hiram. Always a pleasure!

One question for you. Did you miss this part:

"At the end of the day, we get to decide which lens to use to read the story. And I choose to use the “victory over death” lens rather than the “satisfying the vengeance of God” lens."

And so do I. And so may you. Or not. That’s the beauty of being an Anglican – or at least that has historically been the beauty of being an Anglican.

At the end of the day, I guess where I come down is there's room at the table for differences. And this sermon offered a window into alternatives to the theory of subsitutionary atonement for those who want to explore other facets of our theological heritage.

I could respond with a whole list of suggested texts for your reading list or comments on where I think your theology falls short compared to mine, but I've got about as much interest in having windows into "men's souls" as Elizabeth did.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

And in the meantime, our job is to love each other as Christ loved us.

It's really as simple as that.

Have a Joyful Easter.

uffda51 said...

“I do not have time to go into it, but I do not think that you have an understanding of God's righteous wrath at sin.”

For those of us who lack the understanding that Hiram possesses, I have found the perfect church at which to celebrate Easter tomorrow. While browsing the Easter service notices in my local paper, all but one (including the recently renamed schismatic “St. Luke’s Anglican”) chose to tastefully illustrate their ad with a cross, doves, lilies, Calvary or a church. Except one.

This exception featured two animated characters. One, a terrified, wide eyed sinner, the other, a devil with pitchfork, horns and a gleeful expression.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Have a fearful Easter. What a message.

Brian F said...

Dear Susan, I'm delighted that you have had such a joyful Easter, and thank you for finally explaining in more detail what you believe Jesus accomplished for us on the cross - a question which I recall asking you at about this time last year, and had given up hope of receiving a detailed response.

I can now understand better how you believe Jesus released us from fear of death by his death and resurrection. But I'm still puzzled how you gain this understanding from a balanced reading of the whole of Scripture. Surely, when you take into account the sacrifices God required of his people in the temple, especially the sin and guilt offerings, and the Day of Atonement offerings, are they not pointing forward to Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins? Isn't Isaiah 53 abundantly clear that he bore our iniquities to propitiate God's wrath? I totally refute that this understanding involved Cosmic Child Abuse as DavidJustinLynch asserts - a proper understanding of Christ's divine nature and the relation of the persons of the Tinity indicates that God poured out his wrath onto himself, in the person of God the Son, who was not a child, nor an independant third party.

I also wonder at your assertion that your view is supported by the first 1,000 years of church history. I am aware of course that there were alternative theories of the atonement - the Christus Victor model, the Ransom theory, Moral Influence theory for example, all of which have their share of support from Scripture, but the release from the fear of death is not one of them. Could you provide some references to support your contention.

I also wonder how strong the Biblical evidence is for your assertion. I am not aware of any passages that say we are all universally living in fear of death from which we need to be released, whereas it is clear that we are all universally sinners who need forgiveness from God which can only be attained through a blood sacrifice.

If you are right in saying that release from fear of death is what Jesus has accomplished for us, and that is all he has done, then that leaves you with a problem - who or what can provide us with expiation of sin and propitiate God's wrath. It makes no sense that we lose our fear of death, and yet still have to endure eternal death, separated from God because of our sin.

However, I am really interested in what evidence you have from the mainstream of the first 1,000 years of Church history to support the notion of Jesus dying to release us from fear of death.

Easter blessings, Brian

Hiram said...

First of all, I hope that you had a great Easter - it sounds like you did from more recent posts. I certainly did. Among many other blessings, there is the joy that Jesus' being raised from the dead shows that his death was accepted by the Father as full atonement for our sin.

By the way, I noticed that when you quoted from Eucharistic Prayer C, you included "By his blood, he reconciled us." You did not comment on that aspect - but reconciliation implies separation. What is the source of that separation between God and us?

I was not giving you a reading list, Susan, but simply a list of things from early Anglicanism that uphold the idea of substitutionary atonement. If that idea was part of the original teachings of Anglican Christianity, then why is not welcome now? We who uphold it are simply being faithful to our heritage.

Later this week I will put up a post on my own blog on the wrath of God, of which Uffda51 also only knows a caricature. (The James Alison summary is a caricature of Evangelical teachings on the cross and God's justice.)

uffda51 said...

If there’s a written exam after death I’m in a lot of trouble, Hiram, but how do you presume to tell the world what I know?

What I have observed is that conservatives have for centuries used language such as “simply being faithful to our heritage” as license to ignore new evidence and sanction oppressive and discriminatory institutional practices.

Edward Stanton’s words at Lincoln’s deathbed were "Now he belongs to the ages," perhaps the most celebrated epitaph in American history. But is this historically accurate? New scholarship suggests that Stanton may have said "angels," rather than "ages." Were the eyewitnesses, or rather, “ear” witnesses wrong? Or are the facts being spun after the fact?

Is the God of the Bible no different than the other deities worshipped by the ancients around the world, an angry, wrathful, all powerful force, appeased only by sacrifice?
Can there be only one certain interpretation of Jesus’ spoken words when the Gospels were composed decades after his death, and each have a different spin on the significant events of his life?

Priscilla said...

No theologian I, but over on my blog I have a quotation I found from a Jan. 14, 1924 issue of Time Magazine (the article is entitled: Episcopal Theology") that I find particularly edifying in light of these theological debates. Bishop William Lawrence speaks in response to the conservative bishops who are scandalized by the denial of the Virgin Birth doctrine:

"No discovery of science has taken from us our faith," but "when we realize how our conception of the universe has been enlarged ten thousand times, we have a conception of God ten thousand times greater, nobler and more spiritual than was that of our fathers."

I like the idea that as our understanding of the world grows, so does our understanding of God grow and, exponentially, our intimacy, appreciation of, and alignment with God's design for humanity.

Such a great God can't be contained in a book, doctrine, or creed. Nor can his Spirit nor His Son be constrained and frozen for all time in finite "delivered" faith. To God be the Glory indeed!

John I. said...

(As I said elsewhere, and I apologize for repeating myeself),
IF some version of this idea (Sacrificial Theology), such as 'substitutionary atonement' is the only 'orthodox' explanation; then probably 225+ million Eastern Orthodox Christians would strongly disagree.

Sacrificial Theology has long been seen as a Western, (if now largely Calvinist) heresy by the Christian East. Don't take my word for it, do a google search.

By the way, great **Orthodox** sermon in my book! It's about a Savior who raises us from the dead. Now THAT'S Good News!

john iliff

Spike said...

hi susan
i heard your good friday "sermonette" at all saints. i don't agree that in the first 1000 years of christianity there was no doctrine of christ's atonement on the cross for sin. the letters of paul, particulary romans, mention this doctrine. i believe christ died for our sins and to free us from the fear of death(liked that part of sermon!)it seems like all saints is trying to change a basic idea of christian thought by refuting the substitutionary death of christ. this disturbs me.
i also disagree that the doctrine of christ dying for our sins shows a vengeful god. "for god so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" john 3:16


Spike ... thanks for taking time to "commentette."

Let me try this one more time:

I never said there wasn't an atonement doctrine -- in fact, I said the atonement doctrine has BEEN the dominant doctrine in the church -- SUCH a dominant doctrine that many Christians have never heard that there are, were and have been since the beginning, other understandings of the efficacy of the cross.

The argument I am trying to make -- no, let's make that "am making" -- is that Anglicanism has traditionally be broad enough to hold the tension of differenct theological understandings on any number of issues -- and how Jesus dying on the cross was salvific is one of them!

It's not about "changing a basic idea of Christianity" -- it's about recognizing that there have historically been a variety of interpretations AND that insistingn on one or the other of them as a litmus test for inclusion in the Body of Christ is antithetical to historic Anglicanism.

Finally, do note this quote from the post above by John I:

"IF some version of this idea (Sacrificial Theology), such as 'substitutionary atonement' is the only 'orthodox' explanation; then probably 225+ million Eastern Orthodox Christians would strongly disagree.

Sacrificial Theology has long been seen as a Western, (if now largely Calvinist) heresy by the Christian East. Don't take my word for it, do a google search."

Again, thanks for taking time to comment. Easter Blessings!