As Lent is well underway now, I’ve been feeling a vague sense of dread as Easter nears. You see, I have a confession to make. I really dislike Easter. Almost loathe it. While Christmas is a joyful occasion full of celebration and hope, Easter, from a religious perspective, is the opposite for me. It doesn’t need to be I guess, many will say that it’s not ultimately suppose to be about execution and death as much as it is suppose to be about resurrection and new life. But to me, and how it typically gets preached about in the Evangelical/Protestant circles that I’m familiar with, it has always seemed to have been more about how shitty us humans are suppose to be in Gods eye’s. So shitty in fact that the only way God could reconcile his love(?) for us miserable and pathetic creatures and to appease his blood lust, was a human sacrifice of Himself (in the form of Jesus) to Himself. This is apparently, so I’ve been told, the “Good News” of Christianity. Please forgive me as I try to hold back my exuberant gratitude.
Fortunately however, this isn’t the only game in town when it comes to the theology around Easter. As I’ve been engaging with Lent, I’ve been doing a lot reading of books, listening to podcasts, and watching talks and interviews on YouTube. Some around things related to engaging with the Lenten season, like contemplation, self examination, gratitude, servitude etc. But also a great deal around church and doctrinal history and theology. The interesting thing is, contrary to popular opinion it would seem, theology has been a changing and ever-evolving thing throughout all of Christian history. It’s common contemporary manifestation we see here in 21st century North America, is not “just how it’s always been.” That includes how the Bible is read and interpreted. The literal fundamentalist reading for example is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. There has been a number of pockets of that pop up over the centuries, but It began becoming popular or mainstream only with in the last century or so. Making it somewhat ironic that fundamentalists often shout “heretic” when it’s pointed out that maybe they shouldn’t read the Bible as being accurate and literal history. It actually really wasn’t written that way, or read that way for much of Christian history.
The theology around Jesus’s death has likewise not “always been” that it was a ransom paid (He died for our sins) to a wrathful God to make us somehow now acceptable to Her (I’ll save the Him/Her gender thing for another time). There’s been a variety of theological views, some more popular than others at different times and places.
It wasn’t until around the year 1100 that Anselm of Canterbury purposes the theology that a debt was actually paid to God for our sins in Jesus’s crucifixion. Anselm’s infamous Cur Deus Homo has been called “the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written.”
Then the Franciscan theologian Jogn Duns Scotus in the 13th century, who was inspired by the “high level cosmic hymns” in the first chapters of Colossians and Ephesians and the first chapter of John’s Gospel came to a different understanding, one that Franciscan author and teacher Fr. Richard Rohr described this way: ” The best way I can summarize how Scotus tried to change the old notion of retributive justice is this: Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. God in Jesus moved people beyond the counting, weighing, and punishing model, that the ego prefers, to the utterly new world that Jesus offered, where God’s abundance has made any economy of merit, sacrifice, reparation, or atonement both unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10) all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new economy of grace, which is the very heart of the gospel revolution. Jesus was meant to be a game changer for the human psyche and for religion itself.”
This seems to me to be in close alignment with the Eastern Orthodox Church’s theology, as I understand it, that mans salvation(another loaded word that often gets misconstrued) did not happen on the cross, but in the stable. Jesus’s birth is the game changer. Not his death and resurrection(whether you view the resurrection as literal or metaphorical is secondary to the point I think).
What a different take that is! It changes not only Easter, but even Christianity as I understood it for most of my life.
I’m not going to suggest that we ignore Jesus’s execution as a state criminal at the hands of the Roman Empire. Something that was clearly a historical event, one that Christianity needs to mark in order to be properly understood. But what if we treated Easter as if it isn’t about sin? Not about guilt, fallen creation or what miserable and wretched little creatures we are? What if the resurrection story, either interpretation of it, simply symbolizes a new way of life? A new way of seeing our shared humanity, a new way of relating to each, even a new level of elevated consciousness?
That seems to me to be more inline with what Jesus actually taught and how he lived his life. A teaching that if contrasted with the theology of him acting as a human sacrifice to a malevolent and wrathful deity, seems to be more than just a little incongruent.