Giving Up the Theories of Atonement in Order to Move Toward an Evolutionary Understanding of Jesus: a Good Friday sermon

eloi eloi lamaI am indebted to Michael Morewood for the theological insights in his book “It’s Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith” for helping me to see beyond the idols in my head! This sermon was preached on Good Friday 2013 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Additional Good Friday sermons can be found here and here

The account of Jesus’ execution that we have just heard from the Gospel according to John lacks the rawness of the earlier accounts of Jesus death. The author of this account wrote at the turn of the first century, some seventy to eighty years after the Romans executed Jesus. That’s enough time for two, maybe three, or possibly even four generations to have pondered these events. The first account of these events, the Gospel According to Mark was written slightly earlier, sometime after the year 70. Most scholars date it between the years 70 and 85. That’s still 40 to 65 years after the execution; still time for one or two generations to have pondered these events. Perhaps it’s the closer proximity of the Gospel according to Mark that gives it much shaper raw feeling when it is read. Or maybe it’s the decision of translators down through the ages to preserve the intensity of Jesus’ cry from the cross in Aramaic. I don’t know about you, but I cannot begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, and all the horrendous moments that have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” In most of the films depicting the crucifixion that I can remember seeing, Jesus looks up, up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God.Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died.This question has left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries as our ancestors in the faith have struggled to offer up answers to the questions of the faithful. Why did Jesus have to die?

In pulpits all over the planet, preachers are struggling to help their listeners cope with the realities of the violence that murdered the One whom we seek to follow. I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers that have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can recite chapter and verse of the various theories that have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I can tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the fall and original sin and the need for reconciliation. I could recount the various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. Continue reading

Giving Up Theories of Atonement for Lent in Favour of Listening for God’s Laughter

Laughter St Teresa

Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.

Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first day of Lent. Oh goodie!  We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”

Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent and I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century. Continue reading