On Palm Sunday, a friend reported that the rector of his parish had preached a sermon, which my friend partially summarized in these words:
He said he had a meeting with a Roman Catholic friend who told him she always felt guilty during Holy Week since she had been taught that it was ‘her’ sins which were the reason that Jesus had died. The Rector said he was a post-Resurrection person who only found joy in Holy Week. It would appear that the Old Testament and theological matters of salvation, atonement, sanctification, etc., do not bother the Rector too much. Apparently spreading the Good News is all that matters in the post-Resurrection church.
Resurrection without death is impossible. Regardless of how a person understands resurrection and death – literally, metaphorically, or mythically – that which is not dead cannot be brought to life.
I agree with what my friend’s summary of his rector’s sermon implies, that is, orthodox Christian theories of the atonement are at best incomprehensible and at worst evil in the developed world of the twenty-first century. Any theological framework that requires Jesus to die in order for humans to participate in Jesus’ resurrection depicts God as a masochist, sadist, or child abuser.
However, that agreement does not mean that I think resurrection is possible without death. If resurrection is possible without death, then the Good News of the gospel is reduced to the self-help message of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, a self-help message characteristic of much popular evangelical preaching, e.g., that of Joel Osteen.
The death that humans universally experience is what twentieth century Christian theologian Paul Tillich described as inauthentic life. The inauthentic life occurs when a person is no longer faithful to him or herself and is therefore incapable of having what twentieth century Jewish theologian Martin Buber I-Thou relationships with other people and with the divine. Instead, in an inauthentic life a person reduces others and God to objects. With respect to God, this reduction easily and generally leads to agnosticism or atheism.
During Holy Week, Christians commemorate on Palm Sunday Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, remember on Maundy Thursday Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and his command to them that they love one another, and on Good Friday recall Jesus’ crucifixion. In sum, Holy Week encourages Christian self-examination:
· In what way(s) am I living an inauthentic life?
· Who do I objectify, viewing and treating as an object instead of entering into an I-Thou relationship with them?
· In what way(s) do I objectify God, reducing God to a concept that I can describe, perhaps even control, instead of daring to enter into an I-Thou relationship with the Divine, a reality utterly beyond human description or control?
None of us is fully alive, for all are dying if not dead.
In my Easter post, I will explore the concept of resurrection.