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Thoughts on Atonement: Coming to Terms With The Crucifixion

Thoughts on Atonement: Coming to Terms With The Crucifixion

written by Teresa Donati


Christianity is grounded in Crucifixion and Resurrection. It proclaims good news, joy, release from the bondage of sin and death. But it is not a magical formula. The Christian life is a call to live our belief and trust, in what we do every day. Knowing we are God’s creation, knowing the message of Jesus’ life among us, feeling the suffusion of the Holy Spirit, sent to sanctify us and the world, all these through faith become the spiritual heartbeat that animates the Christian soul.


To achieve this, need anyone even say it, we are challenged in ways that can make our spirits soar, or make us squirm with our own shortcomings. Each of us must face God in the struggle to come to terms with sin, with mortality, to rejoice when joy is the grace of a day or a space of days, to weep at the sorrows of one’s own life and the lives of those we love. We face the goodness and badness of the world, and heroic faith struggles stubbornly against despair, even when despair is disguised as sanity, as being ‘realistic’ about the pain of mortal life.


To withstand despair, ironically, we turn to the Cross, for it is there that the greatest testing occurred, and the place from whence the greatest triumph was achieved. It is difficult to understand the full meaning of the Cross. That blood, that death, that suffering, unimaginable, oh, we want to hide our eyes, not to see that which makes us cringe and shiver.


It can take us a whole lifetime to understand fully this stunning death, arms outstretched, nails holding that Body fast. Who knows how long it takes to feel in our hearts that those outstretched arms encircle the world. Can we finally ever come to know deeply God loves even those who hate the very notion of God. Can we know in our deepest mind and soul that God’s love for the unbelieving and the wicked, is as great and terrible and heavy as God’s love for those who believe, and who trust in the Divine? 


That love, expressed in forgiveness on the Cross, is the heart of ‘atonement.’ Jesus’ life and death were above all a witness, there for us each day, each hour, showing the cost of pride, of arrogance, and greed. Greed for power, for standing, for domination, greed to be adored, competition with God for praise and adulation, all of these are shown to be hollow, ending in dust and oblivion. Where are the kings, the rulers, the moguls, the ruthless conquerors? Where is Rome, where are the great empires of old?  Who knows their names? The Book of Ecclesiastes said this so long ago (1:1-2). Meanwhile, who does not know, for better or worse, the name of Jesus, and the death that became a victory of such magnitude? 


Jesus died on a Cross, naked, bleeding, and abandoned. Yet He is the one who is remembered.


In the struggles of the world today, as yesterday, belief in God seems to lose ground against the defiant pride of rich and powerful unbelievers. Stamping out faith is one way to get the conscience of the people numbed to injustice, poverty, tyranny.  The Cross is the exasperated, pounding answer that those who love God indeed can be killed, but that their witness, their souls, their faith, will never die. Not only will the seemingly defeated Faith rise again, it forever rises within us, waiting to show itself, like the sun’s edge of light at daybreak on the morning horizon.


So many people turn away, proudly, from these notions of God and faith. But just as there is no hiding the earth from the sun, there is no hiding the fact that we long for love, we seek transcendence, even as we often resist hearing God’s whispers in our lives. Some find their ‘religion’ in art, or music, or dance, or parenting, or sexual adventure, or drugs, or sports, or doing good works. While the pursuit of a ‘calling’ is often commendable, what is the foundation on which it rests? If we claim the foundation is humanity itself, a belief that human life is holy, and worth serving and saving, then like it or not, the foundation is in Jesus’ words, and this is the ‘Gospel truth.’


The notion of ‘atonement’ should perhaps be restated as the witness to the power of God in every realm, even death.  Sin is defeated. And saying ‘no’ to God, denying the Cross, does not make them disappear. There is an insistence in Jesus’ message. No matter what else we do, no matter where else we seek our meaning and ‘fulfillment,’ God remains the center, and all else is signpost. 



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