So for starters, there was a veritable Easter parade of technical snafus (microphones not working, video issues, missed cues, etc.). In our second service we had to stop mid-way through the first stanza of Christ the Lord is Risen Today because there was an entirely different hymn projected on the screens. The audio in the wonderful baptism testimony video was out of sync, like a Godzilla movie.
But all of this pales by comparison with the moment in the 8:45 service when, near the end of my message, as I accelerated toward the mighty Empty Tomb Crescendo, I invited a sanctuary full of pastel-clad worshipers into “everlasting, ever-living, ever-praising DEATH!”
Happy Easter, y’all.
Okay, so I was excited and momentarily lost my train of thought. It happens. I knew I’d committed more than a minor fumble when the congregation, which up to that point had been nodding and supportively amening, did this simultaneous little head-tilt—a collective ruh-roh. A few of them actually gasped. Some laughed out loud. I think even God probably offered down a sympathetic “Bless her heart.”
The Devil’s favorite lie
Later, as I kicked myself in my office, my friend and fellow pastor, Sharyn Dowd, gave me a hug. “Don’t take it too hard,” she said. “All the screw-ups in worship today were because of that swipe you took in your message at the penal substitution theory of atonement.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’m sure of it,” she said. “Penal substitution is the Devil’s favorite lie for keeping us anxious and ashamed our whole life. We were just getting pushback.”
The crucifixion of Jesus is a great and holy mystery. Because of our genuine need to make sense of this mystery, the Church has offered a number of theories about Christ’s death over the past two thousand years.
In the words of Inigo Montoya: Let me explain. No—there is too much. Let me sum up:
Atonement Theory (sorely abridged)
The New Testament does in fact say, “Christ died for our sins.” (1 Corinthians 14:3b, Galatians 1:4, Romans 4:25) This claim is not up for grabs. The real question for two millennia has been: How do we interpret that claim? Most atonement theories are based on bona fide biblical metaphors for the cross: the “military” metaphor; the “obedience” metaphor; the “ransom” metaphor and the “sacrifice” metaphor.
The “penal substitution” atonement theory, which comes out of the sacrifice metaphor, is not in the New Testament. It’s been around for about 500 years—ever since Martin Luther misinterpreted 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be a sin offering, who knew no sin…” Luther interpreted this verse in terms of punishment rather than sacrifice: God treated Jesus, who knew no sin, as though he were a sinner.
Unfortunately, penal substitution became the prevailing Protestant view of atonement after the Reformation.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, in a recent sermon on John 3:16, takes a hilarious (and harsh)
romp through the penal substitution atonement theory:
“…God had this one little boy – and he loved that little boy so much… but he had to KILL that little boy because you stole a candy bar, or lied to your mom, or felt up your girlfriend or maybe you used swear words or looked at dirty pictures. The important thing to know is that God killed his little boy rather than punishing you, because let’s face it, someone had to pay and you should feel so grateful about all of this that you believe and (most importantly) you behave. But the good news is that if you believe all of this and if you try really hard to be good then when you die you get a special all-inclusive vacation package called Eternal Life.”
Bottom line: The notion that what God mostly is is ANGRY with us is as mistaken today as it was 500 years ago. As Richard Rohr puts it: God loves us, not according to our capacity to be good; God loves us because God is good.
The Love of God is the one eternal reality. When everything else has passed into shadow, what will remain is Love. Love never ends, never fails, never stops, never dies. Fortunately, the news of Easter is so powerfully transcendent, it can bear any of our botched attempts to communicate it.
Happy Easter, y’all.
This is by far the best yet!!! You are an Easter gift of Resurrection every single day! Sharyn was absolutely spot-on!! You shared in a ‘veritable Easter parade of snafus’ so that THIS message could be broadcast. Well-written & heartfelt. Happy Easter, y’all, INDEED!!!
Deborah, thanks so much for the encouragement. Easter joys!
We are no strangers to the unexpected in church services, especially at NABC. I just love your spirit and sense of humor. I too see God saying, “Bless her heart”, after a big belly laugh. The Decatur community is blessed to have you as Pastor. You go girl! Sly
Aw, thanks, Sharon. Yeah, NABC taught me early that bloopers are just God’s way of saying, “I’m here!”
I just found your blog site when I was seeking contact info after reading the article in Baptist News Global that came in my email today. Just wanted to give a shout-out to a fellow GGBTS grad (I received my M.Div from Golden Gate in 1981). My own pilgrimage led me away from Baptists and away from ministry. For years my Baptist contact has been peripheral. My journey after seminary and after denominational upheaval led me to the older liturgical expressions found among Episcopalians and Catholics (one of my blog readers said to me, “I like your blog, but I can’t tell if you are Episcopalian, Unitarian, of Catholic — I just told him “Yes!”).
I’ve recently begun reading the Baptist News Global press reports and have been seeing more of what my old denomination is up to. That is how I happened upon your story. This is the only way I could find to contact you, but I’m also glad to find your blog. Anyone who quotes Mary Oliver and Richard Rohr has to be on to something good. I also want to say that I am impressed with what you have done in your ministerial career. Here’s hoping for more good things down the road.
Charles, thanks for reaching out! Always great to hear from a fellow GGBTS grad. Looks like we missed each other by one year (I arrived in 1982). It sounds like you are on a good path, my friend. Grace and peace to you, and all the good stuff from God’s hand.
A somewhat lengthy journey to this point, i.e., I saw the featured article by Mary Alice Birdwhistell on BWM and noted your name among the credits at the end of the film. I mentioned you to a minister friend who pastors a Methodist church (in her retirement) and told her about first hearing you speak at the CBE conference in Dallas in 2001 and that I had your outline still in my files. I had followed you through your resignation from Decatur and to the D.C. area where I had suggested my niece and her family visit your church (they live in Vienna and they did) and then I found your blog on FB.
Thanks so much for your message. Wow, it seems like the CBE conference was eons ago but I also remember particular moments from that gathering in Dallas. Thanks for the affirmation. What’s your niece’s name? So glad they visited. Advent blessings…