Over the centuries the church has understood, taught and prayed about salvation in a number of ways. One of the major approaches was to see our sins and transgressions rejecting God’s covenant with us, our original sin was to replace God with ourselves, to upend and abandon the creative love of God for us, to alienate ourselves from God, to no longer be in right relationship with God. We need salvation.
We could not earn or achieve salvation on our own, it required the intervention of God in our human history by the sending of His son Jesus. He would “purchase” for us our salvation from the Father by the laying down of his life for us and our sins. He would make right the ledger, even up the account, we could not accomplish this, only the Son could bring us back in him who joined humanity and divinity.
I am not suggesting that this long held understanding is wrong, but rather it is only one of many of our attempts to open up the mystery of grace and salvation. I am suggesting there are other ways to try to understand that offer insight and power as well, so my thoughts ask some different questions or observations.
We are made in the image and likeness of God. Do we know this to be so? Or do we let the effect of evil persuade us it is not so? Sadly an overemphasis on our ability to choose poorly, to ignore the Goodness of God, to replace what is fully of God with something less, persuades us we are not made in God’s image, that destruction, disorder and sin is the primordial truth; rather than the truth that creation and every human has come to be only because God’s love is creative and expansive and everlasting. God’s life which is in us by God’s free gift, is our first state and our most fundamental truth.
When my brother Tommy died in an automobile accident when he was a Vincentian novice and 18 years old, a classmate gave me this poem: “And if the beauty of life is growth where do the grown ups go? Grow then my children into bigger children and let those who have outgrown growth reap the fruit of your sweet harvest.” So, what are we made for? And what do we become when we grow up? Made in the image and likeness of God, made to grow fully into this life. Our growth is meant to be a journey to fullness, to the fullness of life in the kingdom of God.
And so we see the life, the teaching, the passion and death of Christ an ongoing experience of teaching us how to grow, so that when we embrace it, when it becomes our wisdom and our strength, what do we become? The resurrection points to the answer to this question, we believe that if we share with him in a death like his, so also do we share in a like resurrection (St. Paul in the letter to the Romans). We are saved by his life death and resurrection as it shows us the way, as it shows us how to grow.
Let me conclude with an example. Parents the world over daily choose to join with God in his creative love. But does any parent, can any parent ever really know what is required of them when a child is conceived and born? Do they really know and understand that their child will ask of them a never ending choice to love, to give and to even die to oneself so that this new life can flourish, expand and grow? No need for parents to look for their cross to take up, nor to persuade them of the nobility of this; they simply see their child and hear to voice of Christ say to them “follow me, love your child”. And as they love their child they discover more really what being born in the image and likeness looks like, sounds like, and gives like. And just as he did, taking up his Cross in full faithful love, our crosses which ever surround us ask if we would take them up to love like him, live like him, growing ever more fully into the image and likeness of God.
For me that is a different take on the wisdom and power of the cross, on living in full and right relationship with God. Follow me, grow my children, and when you have outgrown growth, live fully with me in the kingdom, know and experience my sweet harvest.
Good Friday has very real somber moments, we remember his passion and death, we reverence his cross. But the cross was not an end in itself, but rather the necessary way for us to come home, saved by our accepting its truth and wisdom and power, learning from it how to really live.