An offering … not an Execution!!

Today Maundy Thursday, I offer an extract from Scott Hahn which I mentioned previously in The New Covenant – sealed with the blood of the Lamb.

It is a timely reminder that in focusing on the sacrificial part of the passion of Jesus as if it was a sacrifice willed by God,  we forget the free ‘offering’.  Scott Hahn puts it  so eloquently :

At our remove of two thousand years, it seems natural for us to look upon Jesus’ crucifixion as a sacrifice.  Christians are heirs to a long tradition of talking that way, praying that way, thinking that way.  But first century Jews who witnessed the event would not and could not have seen the crucifixion as a sacrifice.  It bore none of the marks of a sacrifice in the ancient world. On Calvary there was no altar and no credentialed priest.  There was indeed a death, but it took place apart from the Temple, which was the only valid place of sacrifice in Judaism, and even outside the walls of the holy city.

St Paul, however, made the connections for his generation and especially for his fellow Jews.  In first Corinthians, after introducing the word of the cross (1.18) he calls Christ “our paschal lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (5.7).  Thus he makes the connection between the Passover celebrated as the Last Supper and the crucifixion on Calvary.

Indeed, it was that first Eucharist that transformed Jesus’ death from an execution to AN OFFERING.  At the Last supper he GAVE his body to be broken, his blood to be poured out, as if on an altar.

As Paul retold the story of the Last Supper (1 Corinthians  11:23-25)  he spoke of the event in sacrificial terms.  He quotes Jesus as calling it “the new covenant in my blood”, an evocation of Moses words as he made a sacrificial offering of oxen: “Behold (the blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24.8).  It was the sacrificial blood that ratified the covenant, because Moses said so, in one instance, and because Jesus said so in the other.  

Opening paras in Foreword by Scott Hahn in “JESUS and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper”  – Brant Pitre

Sealed by the blood of the Lamb

Sealed with the blood of the Lamb

Today, Maundy Thursday,  the words ‘sealed with the blood of the Lamb’ takes on a new meaning – not as a sacrifice willed by a merciless God who wanted a scapegoat offering, but as blood willingly shed to seal the new covenant of love and reconciliation between God and man.

LOVE transforms suffering into sacrifice!!

Picture Credit: Internet.  Origin or copyright unknown.

 

Jesus and the Cross

Jesus and the Cross

My post WHY THE CROSS? is my most read post with relatively the least number of comments,  making me somewhat uneasy on my message  which is a bit controversial  – starting off as it does with a heretical questioning of the meaning of the statement “Jesus died to save us from our sins.” and my reflections on what I think it means. 

I’ve had concerns whether I was propounding a heretical view which few wished to comment on,  or maybe reader just moved on leaving me to my idiosyncratic beliefs without engaging in dialogue on this one. 🤔

I was thus happy to read Richard Rohr’s reflection on “Jesus and the Cross – Substitutionary Atonement”  which threw some light on my seemingly heretical thinking.  Rohr, a reputed Jesuit priest lucidly answers the questions I had :

For most of church history, no single consensus prevailed on what Christians mean when we say, “Jesus died for our sins.” But in recent centuries, one theory did become mainstream. It is often referred to as the “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” especially once it was further developed during the Reformation. [1] Substitutionary atonement is the theory that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of humans, thus satisfying the “demands of justice” so that God could forgive our sins.

and takes up the subject with

both excitement and trepidation because I know that substitutionary atonement is central to many Christians’ faith. But the questions of why Jesus died and what is the meaning and message of his death have dominated the Christian narrative, often much more than his life and teaching. As some have said, if this theory is true, all we needed were the last three days or even three hours of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, this interpretation has kept us from a deep and truly transformative understanding of both Jesus and Christ.

Read Richard Rohr’s  full reflection on Jesus and the Cross, the theology of substitutionary atonement (direct link) or post copied below.   He speaks with authority of knowledge and wisdom and his reflections on his website Center for Action and Contemplation – are wonderful spiritual insights.

I am sure you will find plenty to reflect on as we enter into this holiest of weeks.

May you be blessed with the peace and love of Christ.

Image:  Various sources on the internet.  No clear copyright owner. No intention to violate copyright laws.

Jesus and the Cross

Substitutionary Atonement
Sunday, February 3, 2019

For most of church history, no single consensus prevailed on what Christians mean when we say, “Jesus died for our sins.” But in recent centuries, one theory did become mainstream. It is often referred to as the “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” especially once it was further developed during the Reformation. [1] Substitutionary atonement is the theory that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of humans, thus satisfying the “demands of justice” so that God could forgive our sins.

This theory of atonement ultimately relies on another commonly accepted notion—the “original sin” of Adam and Eve, which, we were told, taints all human beings. But much like original sin (a concept not found in the Bible but developed by Augustine in the fifth century), most Christians have never been told how recent and regional this explanation is or that it relies upon a retributive notion of justice. Nor are they told that it was honest enough to call itself a “theory,” even though some groups take it as long-standing dogma.

Unfortunately, this theory has held captive our vision of Jesus, making our view very limited and punitive. The commonly accepted atonement theory led to some serious misunderstandings of Jesus’ role and Christ’s eternal purpose, reaffirmed our narrow notion of retributive justice, and legitimated a notion of “good and necessary violence.” It implied that God the Father was petty, offended in the way that humans are, and unfree to love and forgive of God’s own volition. This is a very untrustworthy image of God which undercuts everything else.

I take up this subject with both excitement and trepidation because I know that substitutionary atonement is central to many Christians’ faith. But the questions of why Jesus died and what is the meaning and message of his death have dominated the Christian narrative, often much more than his life and teaching. As some have said, if this theory is true, all we needed were the last three days or even three hours of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, this interpretation has kept us from a deep and truly transformative understanding of both Jesus and Christ.

Salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented.

References:
[1] This week I will use the phrase “substitutionary atonement” to indicate the most current version of the theory. Throughout Christian history, there have been multiple theories of substitutionary atonement. One of the earliest, the ransom theory, originated with Origen and the early church. Closely related to this was the Christus Victor theory. The ransom view of atonement was the dominant theory until the publication of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) at the end of the 11th century. Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement then became dominant until the Reformed tradition introduced penal substitution in the 16th century. This new view of substitutionary atonement emphasized punishment over satisfaction (Jesus’ crucifixion as a substitute for human sin) and paralleled criminal law. Today, the phrase “substitutionary atonement” is often (correctly or incorrectly) used to refer to the penal theory of atonement. This week’s meditations touch the surface of 2,000 years of complex theological process.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 139-141.