Thursday 9 April 2009

Someone's painful road to Calvary

Life, as beautiful as it is, causes us to ask many questions. The life of faith, which can be just as beautiful, can also provoke the same reaction. For me, one of the greatest questions centres around the events that are remembered over the Easter weekend. The latter part of the celebrations, the resurrection, I actually have very little trouble with. It seems, in essence, a perfectly reasonable and (super-)natural way to end the story. It is, however, the events surrounding the cross that I find so hard. But I was reminded this week in a daily email subscription that the resurrection follows the crucifixion; it does not erase it.

So once again I am left asking the question, why did Jesus die? What was the meaning of his death? Although this is a topic I have wrestled with for many years it isn't foremost in my mind most of the time. But of course this time of year demands giving it some thought. (I did a little thinking last year too: Part 1 and Part 2).

Tonight I took along a book to my local coffeehouse that presents various views of the atonement (the meaning behind Christ's death) through history. For sometime now I have been wanting to study more about the idea of liberation and victory as a consequence of the cross. So I read a little about Irenaeus and his understanding of the atonement. This is a theory from the very early days of the church which grew in popularity up until medieval times, became almost extinct during the Enlightenment, but started to gain popularity again during the first half of the 20th Century through the work of Gustaf Aulen's book Christus Victor (ie. the victorious Christ). The theory goes something like this:

Whether through voluntary action or external coercion, human beings have "fallen" under the control of oppressive and dehumanising powers - typically described as sin, Satan and death. (The Bible presents this through the story of Adam and Eve and their willingness to submit to the seductive ways of the 'serpent'.) Therefore humanity forever struggles with the realisation that they too often do the things they know (somehow) that they shouldn't do, and too often don't do the things that they should.

Since people cannot free themselves from this cycle of being, Jesus Christ appears as the power of God to liberate human beings. God becoming incarnate (meaning 'in the flesh') was able to share in the life of his creation and become subject to those pressures and sufferings that all humans face - the ultimate pressure being death. But by going through death and into life (the resurrection) Christ is shown as victorious over all oppressive powers - even the sting of death.

By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ inaugurates a new age and a new community of freedom, marked by inclusivity and equality. The Church is then meant to be the sign of this new age witnessing to the victory of God over the powers that attempt to pull us down.

I find this theory quite exciting, but very humbling. As the words Tim Rice put in the mouth of Jesus say, 'to conquer death you only have to die'.

I want to explore this area further looking into the theology of liberation, but as I was reading and thinking about these things this evening it struck me that theology is all well and good, but is of little use if it can't be rooted in real life:

For the last few weeks now I have noticed a small group of people enter the coffeehouse at the same time each Thursday. Not always the same people, but certainly a core group of them that I have come to recognise. I had wondered why they always seemed to show up with such regularity, thinking that they must meet there first before heading out to a pub or club somewhere. This evening I figured out the opposite was true. It became apparent that they had all just come from a local AA meeting. One young man in particular seemed to be receiving some extra support as the others offered him various prayer cards, mini rosaries and good luck trinkets to help him in his sobriety.

What, I thought to myself, does Christ the Liberator say to that man? It seems a little too easy to say (and perhaps a little trite) that claiming the all sufficient power of God can free you from your addiction. While I believe that liberation is possible the process has to start somewhere. I soon contemplated that for that man, and for myself, it starts with a deep surrender of ourselves and the painful road to a cross where I may need to die to myself in order for a liberated life to arise.

3 comments:

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