Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Spear in the Side

Perhaps the most neglected symbol of the Easter season is the image of the spear in the side. The incident is reported in John’s Gospel: “But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was dead already, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.” (John 19:33-34).

With great finality this act of the soldier guaranteed the termination of Christ’s suffering a mere 6 hours after being nailed to the cross. By Roman standards, Christ’s execution was quick and merciful putting to rest forever the belief that sin must be paid for by suffering. Christ’s suffering was of necessity brief to make this point. For centuries, humans had believed that God had to be appeased by blood sacrifice for our sins. Easter totally upsets this understanding; so little suffering could never pay for the sins of the whole world. The revolutionary revelation given to us by the Christ of Easter was that suffering could never pay for sin. Sin can only be paid for by love. It is not Christ’s suffering at Easter that saves us. It is His sacrificial love.

Those of us whose lives have been touched by the love of Christ must be faithful to proclaim it. We cannot allow Easter to be hijacked by those who have been seduced by the violence, inhumanity, and suffering of Roman crucifixion; who neglect the celebration of the victory and transforming power of the resurrection. Of course Christ suffered. Of course his blood was shed. He willingly gave his life for us. But Easter is about the triumph of Love. Easter is about forgiveness. It is about starting over, a new life, and a fresh start. In short, Easter is about resurrection. As Marcus Borg points out, death and resurrection are a metaphor for the personal transformation that is the heart of Christianity. This is the meaning of Easter.


Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Steve, thanks for your posting. Your caution against foregrounding the violence Christ experienced physically (and violence it was!) is a good one. It's one reason, among others, that I didn't feel a need to watch Gibson's The Passion; it seems to me that the love of God might, in another context, be lived out and given to us, in the life and death of a sixty-nine year old Messiah who serves his people with consistent and radical love, only to die of pneumonia. The only caveat I would suggest is that the violence Christ suffered provides us with a testimony as to what we too may--as did Bonhoeffer, for example--have to undergo in witness to justice in the service of love and ultimately against violence; that is, martyrdom undergirded by love. I'm thinking here of the French Traappists and their witness Mason has referred to during the Lenten postings. By the way, this is a topic that deserves a lot of reflection and serioius theological thinking. Thanks for starting the conversation. June and I are leaving for Georgia in a new minutes. We'll stay in touch here.

Monday, 24 April, 2006  

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