As Christians we are familiar with the phrase, “Christ died for our sins.” The epistles of Paul and John make reference to this and we hear it often but what does it really mean? What does Christ dying for our sins mean to you? Some find it a helpful phrase. Others find it distracting and troubling.
Christ dying for our sins, for some, involves the notion of payment. Christ died for our sins in order to cancel a certain debt, they might argue. The ransom theory of atonement has found favor off and on in Christian thought. In this way of thinking, we once belonged to God but our sins hijacked us and somehow we came to belong to someone else, ourselves perhaps or Satan. In order to make things the way they were intended God bought us back with the death of his Son. Here it sounds like God is making a payment to someone other than himself to regain our relationship.
Another way of looking at the payment notion has involved a picture of God needing to be paid in order to restore our relationship with him. Here, God is so disgusted with our behavior that he removes himself from us and requires a payment to restore things. Someone has to pay the price that God requires. We ourselves cannot pay such a great price so God provides his Son as the payment. The blood he sheds makes things right again.
Both of those perspectives are dead ends, frankly. The idea that God would pay off someone else or that God himself needs to be paid off seems either to diminish God’s sovereignty or make him into some angry being who has to be satisfied before he can love. Is God truly loving and consistently so? If he is, neither of these approaches carries us very far.
The Old Testament has lots of language about sacrifice. As people came to believe that there was one God instead of lots of little gods, they still carried ideas that God liked for us to offer him sacrifices. Wheat would be burned in the hopes that God might be pleased. Animals would be cut asunder and blood poured out on altars as people imagined God’s attention being gained. Yet, as the Old Testament goes on, we hear that God is not interested in such sacrifices (Isaiah 11:11 for instance). The prophet Amos even goes so far as to say that God despises the burning of offerings or the killing of animals: what God truly wants is for “justice to roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24).
Jesus clearly makes a sacrifice for us. He dies on the cross. He had many opportunities to avoid death on the cross but he saw it coming and he leaned into it. His acceptance of his own suffering and death invite us to a deeper understanding of sacrifice and there we find a richer way of knowing that Christ died for our sins.
Christ died for us. Christ did not die for God. If God needs some sort of payment in order to extend anything to us, we have made him into something far less than we need him to be or who he has revealed himself to be. God did not need a sacrifice but we did. We needed God to do something for us and God did that in Jesus and continues to do that on a daily basis. God does not require sacrifices. God makes sacrifices for us.
We are used to doing things for people when they cannot do for themselves. We do things for our younger children because we know they are vulnerable and something in our heart tells us that giving of ourselves is what is needed. We do things for parents with dementia, knowing our actions might not even be noticed, because we are drawn to the action. We put our desires for the moment aside, we put all expectations of being appreciated aside, we let part of ourselves die, in order that we might give life to someone else. In those times of self-giving sacrifice, something inside us is awakened. To serve another knowing that service cannot be returned puts us in touch with a spiritual freedom that no other action can. That may well be because, in those times of sacrifice, we come closer to knowing the very being of God.
Christ died for our sins. Christ gave himself for us. Christ put us ahead of himself. He died because of our sins. He died trusting that his own death would lead to transformation, not for himself but for us. He gave of himself so that we might come to see that our worst actions do not destroy the fabric of God’s creative and redemptive love. He let himself have less so that we might have more.
Let go of any notion of an angry God who takes delight in death or who is so small that he can be bought. Open your hearts to the loving sacrifice of Christ who reveals the self-giving nature of the God of all things.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The All Saints’ Roll of Remembrance will be read at services on November 5. If you have family or friends who have died in the past year, please notify the church office so that their names may be included on this list.
Special Events Around the Corner
Halloween Carnival – October 25 at 6:00 pm (Wear costumes to “Boocharist” at 5:30
Grounds Clean Up Day – November 5 at noon
Ordination to the Priesthood for Jamie Osborne – November 11 at 11:00 am
Bazaar – November 15
Thanksgiving Eve Eucharist – November 22 at 6:00 pm
Stop Hunger Now – November 26 – need 100 volunteers!
Adult Classes October 29 – December 10
The Book of Psalms – Led By Robert Wisnewski, meeting in the Archives Room
Introduction to the Enneagram through Literature – Led by Karen Funk and Carroll Nason, meeting in the Library
Living the Good News Bible Study – Led by Dudley Perry, meeting in the Small Dining Room
Aid to Puerto Rico
Many of you have asked how you might support the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after the recent and devastating hurricane. There is still little power on the island and in many places no water to drink or bathe in or to flush toilets. In the short term you may donate to the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico (www.gemn.org/donate-to-diocese-of-puerto-rico-hurricane-fund/ or the Episcopal Relief and Development organization of the Episcopal Church (episcopalrelief.org). The recovery effort there will take years and there will ways longer term of helping. Parishioner Delia Cerpa still has family in Puerto Rico and you may contact her at email@example.com. Please keep the people in Puerto Rico in your prayers.