Sunday, 5 April 2015

Maundy Thursday- Atonement as healing

Maundy Thursday- atonement as Healing

For the next few days I would like us to explore what is called the atonement. At the very center of our faith stands a cross. We wear crosses around our necks, and we put them on our walls. We emboss them on our Bibles and Prayer Books, some of us even tattoo them on our bodies. But what does the cross mean? What happened on the cross? The word “atonement” literally meant “at-one-ment”. It is to bring two things into unity. We are told that what happened on the cross brought what was divided (God and humanity), into unity.
There are a variety of ways to understand the Atonement. C. S. Lewis has said that understanding how it works is less important than understanding that it works. He says it is like nutrition. People were eating food and drinking long before there were any theory of nutrition. You don’t have to understand how your body breaks down food and makes use of it to nourish your cells. When you are hungry it is enough to eat and it still works even if the process seems somewhat mysterious. Jesus’ work on the cross is like this. We don’t have to dedicate ourselves to one particular theory about how this works. What we are assured of in Scripture and the experience of the Church is that it does work.
That being said, I would like us to look at three views of the Atonement over the next three days. There are many ways of understanding the Atonement that fall into three basic categories. They basically answer the question “where was the work of Christ on the cross directed?” Was it directed to human beings? Was it directed to God? Or was it directed to Evil?  If it is directed towards human beings the actions of Jesus are viewed as healing humanity, or providing an example for them to follow, or expressing God’s amazing and unending love to them to draw them to himself. If it is directed to God then the actions of Jesus can be seen as the actions of a representative or a substitute for humanity that stands before a profoundly mysterious and holy God that is unable to have the corruption of sin in His presence. Jesus pays a debt we owe God, or receives a punishment we deserve as a part of offending a very holy justice. If it is directed towards evil then we see the work of Christ on the cross as going to battle on our behalf to destroy the powers of Evil and rescue humanity that has been captured and oppressed.
Today I would like us to look at the work of Christ on the cross as directed towards humanity. Particularly I would like to look at the atonement as being primarily about healing. Throughout the Bible Sin is described as a kind of sickness. Sin leads to physical sickness. Though the book of Job and Jesus tell us that those who are sick are not sick because of their own sin, nevertheless we are told over and over of the connection between sin and physical sickness, corrupt social structures, and even a damaged environment. In the Old Testament we read that over and over again the people wander off the path set for them. As they walk away from the safety of God’s path they encounter all kinds of suffering and corruption.
The overall result is described in Isaiah 1:2-4, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’ Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” St. Paul refers to Ps 14 in Romans 3:10-11 saying, ““None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Our state is bleak. We are so sick we don’t even necessarily want to be healed. We are given the Law to show us God’s path and we are so sick we are unable to walk it.
God describes our condition in Isaiah 1:5-7 “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.” (Is 1:5-7)
In Isaiah 57 we read God’s words through the prophet, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him’” (Is 57:18-19).    In Exodus 15:26 God says, “I am the Lord, your healer”.
This desire to heal is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus who describes his own ministry in light of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). The list of Scriptures referring to Jesus’ healing actions is massive. He heals lepers, and paralytics, people with crippled limbs, the blind, and many many others including Lazarus who was healed from a case of death. Interestingly when Jesus heals one man in particular we read, “some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’”(Mt 9). So the connection between the sickness of sin and the physical sickness that comes as a result of Sin being in the world is made explicit.       
God desires our deep healing. He wants to restore us to wholeness. God doesn’t want to just look the other way when we sin. Sin leads to our own suffering and so God in his love wants to confront and heal our sin, and even our desire to sin. This healing isn’t always without some difficulty, just as a wounds sometimes has to be cleaned, or a bone needs to be set for healing to occur properly. To heal psychological wounds, or damage to a relationship we often have to enter into the place of pain, which can be uncomfortable.   And so healing can be a painful process.
In Isaiah 53 we read, “4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The actions of Christ heals the relationship between human being and God, by dealing with the sin that separates us. The never ending sacrifices that were a part of the Temple are no longer necessary for our healing. The one ultimate and final healing has taken place. The lifeblood of the God-Man has been offered to heal our sin sick souls.
When we see the cross in this way we see that the cross is in line with the rest of Jesus’ ministry which is about healing. The love he teaches us tonight by washing our feet shows us an irresistible love that draws our hearts into a healing relationship with him. The bread and wine he offers is medicine for our souls. The cross is a beacon of love- showing us the profound lengths God is willing to go in order to show his love for us, and by the power of his resurrection empowers us to imitate his never ending and inexhaustible love. By drawing us to himself, the great Physician, we are drawn into a relationship of healing. In this relationship we find a profound peace with God, with ourselves, our communities, and our world.         

For a much fuller image see The Nature of the Atonement 

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