And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole Earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more. (Genesis 8: 6-12)
It is the time of Lent. It is the time of year for seriousness until we come to that glorious day when we exclaim: Alleluia. Jesus died for my sins.
I hear that phrase a lot. Jesus died for my sins.
And, when feeling particularly cantankerous, I ask, Just what does that mean? Jesus died for my sins? I usually get gibberish. Or a quick turning on the heels and walking away.
Because, of course.
Are our sins gone? Just look around. It’s not my impression that they are. In fact, at the moment, they seem to be increasing at a ferocious rate.
So Jesus died.
I got that.
For what exactly?
My biggest problem with the phrase, Jesus died for my sins, is that, to my mind, even though “we” are the object of a preposition (the for), when we say this and how we say this turns the sentence on its head and makes “we” the subject. Not the object.
I am the reason Jesus died.
We are the reason. Jesus is merely the means to our end of sinning.
Of having our sins, what now? Forgiven?
If Jesus died so that our sins are forgiven, why aren’t they forgiven?
Why are we expected to forgive others before we can receive forgiveness? (cf., The Lord’s Prayer)
We have to work for our forgiveness. Literally. We have to pay for it through our own efforts.
And if the dynamic is supposed to be: no matter what, all sins will be forgiven – eventually, what about the reference in the Bible to the unforgivable sin?
If God tells us that there is a sin which cannot be forgiven, how does this impact our general understanding that Jesus died for our sins?
(I don’t think anything can really ever dent our hubris on this matter. So we may as well ignore the question above.)
So let’s change the subject.
Or, let’s start the subject. Here and now.
There’s this guy named Noah. He has a big ship and a lot of animals.
And more water than he could probably imagine.
Boat. Animals. Water.
What to do?
How am I going to know when this nightmare has ended?
Ah! I’ve got it. The birds. I’ve got birds.
They’ll be my scouts.
So out goes the Raven.
And out goes the dove.
The dove, finding no rest, comes back to the ship to rest up until the next flight.
The Raven stays in flight.
Until the waters on the Earth had dried up.
All that time.
Back to Lent.
This is the time of considering the death of Jesus.
Yes, I understand that thinking about this horror might interfere with dinner parties, and work, and basketball games.
Give it a shot.
The Raven is sent out by Noah, almost as a curse. The Raven is cursed into having to stay in flight until it can rest.
A long time.
Not something that was expected of the dove.
Jesus was sent into us. Almost as a curse. The curse of having to walk amongst us until he could walk no farther.
We all know that Jesus Christ is God’s Sacrifice.
He is the lamb.
And before he even died he pointed out to his disciples the significance, the importance, of his very flesh and blood.
This is it, he told them. This is who I am.
I am the Living Sacrifice. I am the embodiment of that which is given wholly to God for his design.
For this Earth.
I am the means to God’s end.
And to get to that end, I will die.
My flesh will be cut open. My blood will be spilt.
My cross is God’s altar.
And I am the Lamb on that altar, giving all that I am to God.
So, there we have it, the introduction to the concept of sacrifice.
It’s a horrible concept.
But it is what Jesus is.
Let’s look at one way that he got there. And what he did about this getting.
Consistently, throughout his ministry, Jesus is faced with false accusations. We all know what was said against him.
It got so bad, even, that at one point he was assumed to be a form of evil because he could heal people.
And then there’s the final false accusation.
An accusation that gets Jesus from his everyday life (as extraordinary as that was) to his altar. To his slaughter. To the cutting of his body and the letting of his blood.
There is a divine dynamic around false accusations.
False accusations are evil’s response to Beauty.
And Jesus is Beauty.
The gentle, tender, passion. The grace of God. The willingness to die for God.
There isn’t enough time in this life to complete the description of Jesus’s beauty.
Now let’s go somewhere else for a moment.
Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Let’s look at our friend, The Snake.
The snake’s evil (the first evil we get a taste of) expressed itself in a false argument.
Not a false accusation.
In fact The Snake did no accusing, no insulting. Instead he used his words to turn Eve’s head. To convince her that doing wrong was the right thing to do.
I’m writing this to show you that false accusations, in the realm of evil, have their own dynamic.
It is solely a response to Beauty.
It is evil’s desperate attempt to take apart that Beauty. That power to transcend the surface of life and lift up for our benefit the holiness of God.
Beauty is too powerful for evil. It is too capable of drawing people to it.
So down it must go.
Do you remember the weapon that Jesus used on those false accusations?
He used Mercy.
Now it’s interesting to know (at least I think so) that Mercy is a choice.
It can be a divine choice. Or it can be a choice for anyone in authority who can bring real harm to someone below him who has committed a transgression.
Jesus is nailed to the cross and he speaks.
He addresses the thief hanging next to him.
He addresses his mother and his disciple.
He addresses God.
Forgive them, Father.
Jesus does not forgive us. Jesus petitions God, the Father, to do so.
Without our having to work for it.
Jesus prayed for us.
It was his attempt to have God take mercy on us.
In his heart, his bleeding heart; in his weakening mind; in his sorrowful soul, Jesus thinks of us being granted Mercy by God.
The Raven was sent out to stay in flight until it came to rest.
An arduous ordeal.
Jesus faced false accusations until he came to rest in his Father’s Kingdom.
Those that are sent out by God are expected to accomplish what he has sent them out to do.
And Jesus went beyond God’s expectations.
He faced his accusers, and he prayed for them.
That God would show them Mercy.
This is one of the meanings of the sacrifice of Jesus.
As Lent goes on, there will be more.