Reclaiming Easter – Towards a Gospel-Centered Understanding of the Cross

thEaster is NOT primarily about the liberation of people of colour, proving that gay lives matter, or radical civil disobedience – it is about proclaiming Christ’s ultimate triumph over evil so that all individuals (regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation) have a chance to rule and reign with Him. It is a radical proclamation of self-sacrifice – the most intimate and personal act ever committed by a man, and also the gateway to eternal life and salvation.

It’s Easter Sunday again. My Sunday school children have just gotten back from their frantic morning of Easter egg hunting and indulging in goodies – the only day of the year their parents will let them eat chocolate before breakfast. The choir has sung its cantata, the pastor has preached a stirring sermon on the resurrection, and the church is packed to standing room only with what we coin C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians. And all is well with the world, until suddenly I turn on my Facebook and see my Newsfeed flooded with the following public service announcements:

~ A good God would not have forced His/Her only Son to die. That is divine parental abuse.

~ We are not inherently sinful. Christ did NOT die for our sins… belief in sins is archaic, grotesque, and ignorant. Christ died as an inspiring act of liberation. His death was an act of divine civil disobedience which all of us are able to take part in.

~ Christ died in order to show us that gay lives and black lives matter. Let’s end racial inequality.

~ Christ did not die to offer us eternal salvation. Eternal life may or may not exist, but Christ truly died in order to teach us how to live in this world – in the here and now.

~ Perhaps the risen Christ was female. [He died a man, but maybe He ended up getting a sex operation and became transgendered before all was said and done]

Each one of these points carries with it some merit [although truthfully, I find the last one to be quite odd with no theological and Biblical backing whatsoever]. I’ve been a Christian for 20 years, and yet, I admit that the gruesome accounts leading up to Christ’s death are still unpleasant to hear about. The concept of iron on flesh, the stark nakedness of a man claiming to the Saviour of the world, and the piercing wails of women at the feet of the Cross is hard to imagine.

Likewise, people of colour have lives that matter. So do people who identify as LGBTQ. There is probably even some truth to the fact that evangelical Christians probably should serve them pizza and possibly even bake them cakes, and that Christ’s self-sacrificial death truly has been a pivotal moment in causing us to reflect upon the brokenness, poverty, and marginalization that exists all around us and truly do something about it.

Nevertheless, if we simply leave the Easter message at this – a radical out breaking, civil protest, and fight for gay liberation, I believe something is sadly missing. In fact, I believe that we are truly missing the entire point of the resurrection story.

Jesus was a political agitator, a non-violent protestor, and a lover of all humanity. He was all these things, but He was something so much more – He was (and is) the Son of God. Throughout history, many brave men and women have died fighting for causes they believed strongly in. Martin Luther King Jr. died fighting to end division between the blacks and the whites. Ghandi died trying to restore peace to India and beyond. Felix Manz died trying to establish Anabaptism. The Martyr’s Mirror is full of the accounts of individuals who died in the hope and trust that there was something greater than what they saw – in the patient anticipation that the world would someday be made right. Jesus was among these brave men and women. Jesus died in the patient trust that God would restore God’s Kingdom on this earth…but Jesus also truly had a part in making that happen.

You see, Jesus was far more than simply a gay rights proponent or a libertarian. He was the incarnate Word Made Flesh (1). His death upon the Cross was a subversive moral influence, but it was also something way more. It was the liberation of all the souls of humanity.

When Jesus died on the Cross, He displayed the most radical and shocking show of love the world had ever seen. Leaving His heavenly throne, He chose to despise the wealth and honour of riches and instead chose to enter into this world as the least of these. The Bible is full of examples that Jesus was not a rich or powerful ruler, but He was simply an average man. According to various passages, He was not a stud, not a white collar worker, and not a chick magnet. He worked long hours in a carpenter’s shop, the sweat of His brow flooding down unto His beard. He scorned hierarchy – rejecting attempts to make Him King. He chose to ride on a humble donkey rather than a warhorse or strong steed. When people tried to coerce Him into positions of power, He fled. He gave us an example that servanthood must come before being served (2).

Jesus’s death ushered in a new age – an age in which humanity will be seen as equal. Tearing down the dividing walls of hostility, He established a Kingdom in which men and women, slave and free, black and white, homosexuals and straight, are able to receive His love, His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness.

In Christ’s death, we are able to be selfishly loved by the Creator Himself. We are able to learn what real love is. We are able to find forgiveness for our wrongs, and thus to determine exactly how we too can forgive our enemies.

This liberal understanding that sin is passé is entirely false. The Bible warns us again and again that we all fall short of God’s standards for us (3). We read that no one is righteous, no not one (4). Furthermore, we are told that if anyone says that he or she is without sin that he or she is a liar and God’s truth is not in him or her (5). These are very harsh words, but they are also very honest words.

Not too long ago a movement was formed – a movement in which the lie that individual truth trumps God’s Gospel was promulgated. Christians began insisting that their personal opinions mattered more than a two thousand year old book. That theology was based on personal experience (which is ever shifting) rather than on God’s Word which we are told in Scripture remains constant (6).

As a budding theologian, I also affirm that theology is forever forming and changing. BUT it is changed and formed in the context of community while consulting with the Scriptures, ancient Church Fathers and Mothers, and with the backdrop of inspiration from the Holy Spirit. God never meant us to live the Christian life alone. The Christian life is not meant to be an individualistic experience in which we can simply choose which verses to live by and which to ignore, instead it is a clarion call for discernment, wisdom, and focus into all of the verses Jesus taught, spoke, and lived into.

You see, my friends, Jesus did not primarily die with the intent that blacks would be liberated, that gays would be accepted, and that all Christians would rise up and engage in civil disobedience. I believe all of these things matter to Christ, but there is something far more pressing than that. He died so that ALL would be liberated from the shackles and weight of a crushing sin that strangles us and takes the life breath out of us. He died so that we all may have the chance to be accepted into God’s marvelous Kingdom if only we confess that Jesus truly in the way to Salvation. He died so that we, too, may live a life of service, discipleship, and yes, if need be, radical civil disobedience. At the crux of what He did, Christ died looking each one of us in the eyes and saying “I love you so much that I will die for you. Not because you deserve it, but because I am love. Because I am peace. Because I am life breath. And in exchange, I’m asking you to love Me. I’m asking you to love yourself. I’m asking you to love your neighbour. I’m even asking you to lay down your life for your enemy.”

When we take the aspect of sin and literal death and resurrection out of Easter we are distorting the true Easter message. We are claiming that we DESERVE God’s merit, that we DESERVE God’s mercy, and that we DESERVE God’s compassion. After all, we never really sinned – He was simply dying as an example. We deserve none of these things. The only thing we truly deserve to do is to look Jesus square in the eyes and marvel at the fact that although many political agitators would die before and after Him, not a single one of them would come back from the dead. Not a single one of them would go on to live forever. And not a single one of them would be able to save their souls from eternal damnation. Only in doing that, can we move beyond ourselves – beyond our own life experiences and beyond our own temptation to see our experience as sovereign, and instead choose to cling to and embrace the universality of the Resurrection story. Of the one who says “I am willing be healed.”(7) Only then can we join the women at the tomb who in awed jubilation shouted or perhaps whispered silently “we have seen the Lord.” (8) Only then can we boldly assert, “He is risen. He is risen indeed.”

————————————–

NOTE: I do NOT endorse chocolate bunnies over Christ.  I have no issue with the kids doing Easter egg hunts, but truthfully there needs to be something more than this.  It is a sad realization that many parents just aren’t fostering the spiritual lives of their kids and supplementing the Sunday school lessons at home enough (but that’s another blog post for another day)

1) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1%3A14&version=NASB

2) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+20%3A26&version=NASB

3) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A23&version=NASB

4) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A10&version=NASB

5) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+1%3A8&version=NASB

6) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13%3A8&version=NASB

7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+8%3A3&version=NASB

8) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+20%3A25&version=NASB

9) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+28%3A6&version=NASB

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4 thoughts on “Reclaiming Easter – Towards a Gospel-Centered Understanding of the Cross

  1. This is amazing…. Honestly, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the liberation theology… I believe it is important and very Scriptural… but I believe we’ve gotten so far from the reason WHY liberation theology works… and I think you’ve nailed it… Thanks, Deborah.

    • Thanks for your kind thoughts, Robert. Jesus Christ came to liberate ALL of us – but as the Scripture says “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” We often forget that Jesus’s radical political act was exactly that, radical, because of it being His choice to die in the most painful way for a better future for all of humanity. This subversive act encourages each one of us to live in the same way – a way that dies to self daily in an attempt to restore the original Kingdom of God!

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