Monday, April 09, 2007

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007

Today is the day of resurrection. Today we celebrate new light and new life. It is evident from our very surroundings. Last night at the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrated the rekindled light representing the light of Christ. This is particularly moving as during the Tenebrae last week we slowly extinguished the lights. Now the dreary purple of Lent has given way to the dazzling white of Easter. The Paschal Candle burns bright after its lighting last night.

Today we celebrate the central event of the Christian tradition. The resurrection of Jesus provides the foundation for what we believe. If there is no resurrection then there is no Christianity.

But in addition to celebration this can be a day of reflection. It is a day we should reflect on what the death and resurrection of Jesus means to each one of us individually.

This time of the year seems to invariably bring out theological scholars who make arguments about what this most crucial events means and what it does not. This year is no different. Dean Jeffrey Johns, a theologian over in England, recently wrote an article about his view of the atonement. Atonement means a “satisfaction given for wrongdoing” or injury. Theologically atonement specifically refers to “the redeeming of mankind and the reconciliation of God with man, brought about by Jesus sufferings and death.”

Dean Johns is troubled by the traditional view of the atonement which seems to place too great an emphasis on the wrath and punishment of God making the sacrifice of Jesus necessary. It is basically a “The Passion of the Christ” view which in my own mind focused entirely too much on the passion and not nearly enough on the resurrection. There was an immediate cry raised over Dean Johns’ thoughts.

My point in this is not to defend Dean Johns, although I agree with his concerns. But I do think it important that as Christians we are not afraid to discuss these issues. The cries of immediate condemnation are unhelpful as all of us struggle to understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The title for the article about his comments was rather inflammatory: “Christ did not die for our sins.” This was definitely not what Dean Johns was trying to say at all. But it certainly made better press. He was trying to get people to examine the atonement in a different light.

The article states: “Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that
Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us".

I actually find nothing terribly wrong with this idea. I know I have always been more interested in talking about the resurrection than the crucifixion. It is the resurrection we celebrate every Sunday. A faith fixated on the substitutionary suffering of Jesus on the cross does indeed stress too much the wrathful and vengeful nature of a God which Jesus clearly portrayed as loving.

And love is what Easter is really all about. God sent Jesus because of love. Jesus laid down his life for us because of love. John 3:16 reminds us of why God sent Jesus. It was because of love. “Because God so loved the world…” begins the verse that so many of us know by heart. The idea of a wrathful God demanding the death of his son is foreign to the Christian scriptures. It is a theology developed hundreds of years later. And yet many cling to it as “gospel”.

We must reject it as a perversion of the very nature of God. Instead, this Easter let us embrace the true image of God. God is love. Jesus taught this time after time. Jesus taught that others will recognize our faith by our love. This week we have experienced the power of God’s love as we traveled through the suffering, death and now the resurrection of Jesus.

You may think it strange that I have spoken all this time and other than mentioning the fact of the resurrection as being central to our faith, have not really spoken about resurrection at any length. What a strange way to approach an Easter sermon.

Yesterday, after the Great Vigil of Easter Ian came up with a great theological question. He wanted to know how, if Jesus was the son and God was the father, how could they be one? My years of theological training and years in the ministry had prepared me for just this moment. I knew exactly what to do. I referred him to Father Emmanuel conveniently standing nearby.

Father Emmanuel explained that in the end it is a mystery. And that is the truth. That is also the best explanation I can come up with for the resurrection as well. It is a mystery. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know exactly how it worked out in our physical world. But I do know that it too was a product of love.

Alleluia, Jesus is risen!

Alleluia, Jesus is love.

Let us go from here and share the love of Jesus with everyone we meet.

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