When you descended into death,
O Life Immortal,
you made Hades as nothing
with the radiance of your divinity.
Feeling your way deeper and deeper
through every dark realm
you came to the bottomless pit of fear
and closed it round with the embrace
of your compassionate gaze,
comprehending it within the wider assurance
that everything can fall, finally,
only toward your Life.
Overwhelmed by the tidal waves of your world
we yearn for your Rescue,
pining for some Presence
other than that still small Pulse of life
within us already.
Compassionately enduring your own world,
risen to your full statue in the tempest of its challenges,
you lay bare for all to see
how they lurk at the heart of every moment,
those seeds of goodness
hidden in the hardest, darkest shells,
waiting to be unlocked and rise again.
I wrote these two prayers for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which trace Christ’s confrontation with the powers of evil and darkness. They seek to express the strange process of redeeming the Dark by confrontation, compassion, non-resistance and resilient refusal to succumb.
Whose shoulders are big enough to bear the sins of the world?
There are, of course, some perverse ways in which sins get borne. We humans are very prone to scapegoat others, to offload our fears and apprehensions on this person or that group, rather than search out the complex reasons why things go wrong.
But scapegoating is a sign of oursinfulness, not a sign of how Jesus’ Cross is the culmination of his redemptive life, Western Christianity’s heavy use of the scapegoat motif on Good Friday notwithstanding. A better clue to the meaning of “bearing the sins of the world” can be found in a Hebrew word often translated “forgiveness." The word naga’ has a number of meanings, one of which is “to bear" and it is sometimes applied to atonement rituals in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, when God forgives our sins, God is, among other things, “bearing the sin” rather than punishing us or avenging it.
We ought to understand this because we do it ourselves. If we retaliate for every slight, strike back for every offense, take vengeance for every injury, our world spirals into emotional violence, perhaps worse. But we often “bear with” others we care for, sometimes actually “bear the sin” done to us and forgive it. Of course, there's a time and place for everything, and the Master also bids us confront offenders directly when necessary. Finding the right balance between forbearance, self-protection, and calling others to accountability is one secret of emotional maturity.
So, Jesus “bearing the sins of the world” means, among other things, that he embodies, as God's living Message in the flesh, God's big shoulders: God's own merciful willingness to "bear" injury from us as we violate the fabric of goodness in ourselves, nature, and other people. We do this extravagantly, dangerously, often heedlessly. We are inextricably part of the sin of the world no matter how noble and holy our personal lives are; not to blame for all of it, but also not exempt from contributing to it.
Peter Abelard had this right: the Cross shows how deeply God will enter into life to reach us. The crucified Son is not the victim of a God furious at sin, but rather the very embodiment in human flesh of God’s own sin-bearing, forgiving love, relentlessly refusing to turn against us, even as we pierce his hands and side. That is because God sees us still, and always, with a heart that is ferocious in its desire to wake us up out of the fears and narcissism that are the drivers of our misdeeds; wake us up to accountability, and turn us toward the golden seeds of God-likeness planted deep in us.
“Hate the sin but love the sinner” is not a popular phrase among the fellow-believers I know, but it’s not entirely amiss for how God sees us. Perhaps “grieve the sin and love the sinner” or even “bear with the sin because they are more than sinners.”
Whatever way it's said, it’s good news for yet another Good Friday.
When elephants are being slaughtered to the point of extinction in Africa, it can seem a bit narcissistic to contemplate one’s own seemingly less minor sins. But to neglect such personal self-examination would be to misunderstand the very nature of sin.
For the same greed which leads criminal gangs of poachers, just last Thursday, to murder 89 elephants in Chad, including 33 pregnant females, dwells in my own heart.
It manifests in ways other than hacking off elephant tusks to fuel the lucrative Asian ivory trade, but the greed arises from roots in me that are the same in those poachers. The wealthy Chinese who imbibe some of this ivory, in powder form, as an aphrodisiac are enhancing the same lusts that burn in me when I seek some stimulant in fantasy or visual form to artificially hype up my own sexual desires. My sins may not rise to the same grandiose and destructive heights as theirs, but we are bound together in the same powerful web of sin.
It is astonishing that “sin” is such an unpopular word, granted that there is so much of it spoiling human lives and destroying the world — for “sin” is the word for whatever spoils the goodness of life, and destroys the fabric of health in the body, relationships, societies and the world. Write it large in red, or black, or shocking pink across every newspaper front page every day of the week.
I do not mean, in saying this, to fall into the trap of believing human nature is totally corrupt, but anyone who does not recognize that we all have in us the seeds of corruption hasn’t noticed much about either life or themselves. The rabbis have it right: made in the image of God, we are capable of both good and evil. All of us. Every day. But because the world is so dotted with spectacular sinners—sex traffickers, hate-mongers, political liars, elephant murderers, climate change deniers, child abusers—I can easily make light of my own less newsworthy bursts of greed, arrogance, unwarranted anger, self-serving lies, and minor resentments against others.
In Holy Week, Christians sing hymns that often assert that we crucify Christ: I it was denied thee, (not just Peter), I crucified thee (not just those high priests, those Romans, or the screaming mob). We do this because it is, quite simply, true. Christ is the symbol and embodiment of God’s own goodness in human nature and the world. The ways we allow our “unruly wills and sinful affections” to compromise, undermine, and destroy the fabric of the world all contribute to crucifying that goodness.
The place to start in pondering our sins is not with our own small selves, but the world God loves—and then to smell out where we are contributing to its malaise, however unwittingly. And then try hard to figure out how we can lessen the sinfulness of our footprint.
I am a Christian in New Jersey with deep roots in and respect for the "generous orthodoxy" tradition of spiritual wisdom and for the insights of other spiritual pathways. Increasingly concerned about what this world-wide wisdom, particulary the Abrahamic prophetic message, should be saying about current affairs, both religious and secular, I finally decided to do this blog. Beside this, I love science fiction/fantasy, great mystery novels, world history, political history, poetry, music of most any kind, tennis, and art.
All these blogs are copyright by Robert C. Morris, all rights reserved.