Run Away! (From Atonement?)

That is what I always thing of when I hear the word “retreat.” I helped out (last minute addition) with a teen retreat in Central PA. The area was gorgeous and it was a lot of fun. Sharing a cabin with 8 barely pubescent boys, however, never gets better.

The title of the post also refers to a tendency among many mainline ministers to run away from the theology of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice.

The weekend was treated as if it were Easter with Friday being Good Friday, etc. The other priest spoke last night about the crucifixion. She is a great speaker, but she began with the “I cannot accept a God who requires the death of anyone, let alone his own son.” She then proceeded to offer various stories of people, fictional and real (e.g., Harry Potter in Book 7) as examples of sacrificial love. And this is what the crucifixion is about, she said, the example of Jesus that we offer ourselves for others.

The problem is, of course, that none of this takes into account the universal assertion of the New Testament that Jesus’ death was as an atoning sacrifice. The problem for folks like the priest last night is that they are so overwhelmed by their own repulsion at the notion of the sacrificial system and the idea of God requiring his own son’s death that they are unable to conceive of any purpose of such a system. In the ancient world, as most if not all readers of this blog know, the use of sacrifices was the primary language for communicating with God. So, when the Law established a means of communication between Israel and God it is by sacrifices. Jesus also “spoke” this language, while at the same time bringing an end to the literal language of sacrifice.

Jesus’ death certainly teaches us that Christ’s love for us and the love he expects us to have for others is self-sacrificing. But his sacrifice was far more valuable than as just an example. In sacrificing his life he brought us eternal life. He made us “at one” with God.

From this morning.