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Friends in Christ,

Our journey to the cross is the most transformative path we walk as followers of Jesus Christ. The journey is long and winding; it involves temptation, betrayal, and loss. We are blessed by moments of great celebration, affirmation, reason for confidence and hope – the waving branches of Palm Sunday and the jubilation from all gathered to shout Hosanna and celebrate the arrival of the Messiah, which turn so quickly to the angry shouts and bitter grief of Good Friday. At each stage of this journey, God encounters us in transformative and life-changing ways and asks us to trust the presence of the sacred in every moment.

Over the last year I’ve asked myself how I can more faithfully cast my cares at Christ’s feet. How can I lighten the weight of these days – for my family, my neighbors, all of God’s beautiful and beloved children – from the compounding crises that break over us with such resounding force. I’ve wondered how we can faithfully let go and trust God to carry us in redeeming, everlasting love. In this wilderness we have wandered – and the wilderness we encounter in the season of Lent – how can we wholeheartedly lament and release our burdens? How can we ReLent?

There is guilt. There is control. There is shame. Idolatry and judgment. Pride and Doubt. Christ is inviting us to release so much that we carry, so that we can seek his way, his truth, his love as a path to new life. In the Gospel of Mark we read that while Christ was in the wilderness – these forty days we are now journeying – while temptations circled and wild beasts lurked, the angels waited on him. I love that. In in the wilderness, the angels waited on him. This is the truth of scripture offered to every follower of Jesus Christ: as God’s beloved we are never forsaken, never truly alone, never separated from the redeeming and relentless love of God. In all our worries, our doubts, our fears, our imperfections, our sinfulness – the angels wait. How do we know? We know because Easter morning does indeed dawn. When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb that Easter morning, an angel was waiting.

Knowing this Gospel truth, and knowing the season of Lent ends with the triumphant news of the resurrected Son of God, what might you ReLent as the angels surround you in this promise of redemptive love? What have you been carrying that Christ invites you to release? The journey of Lent is a time of wrestling – a season that breaks down defenses and façades. Lent reminds us that it is God’s word – manifested in the life of Jesus Christ – that sustains us.

As we journey to the cross – united as followers of Christ and children of God – what can you leave behind? How might God be offering nourishment in your wilderness? The disciples carried doubt and fear all the way to Easter. The religious and political leaders carried judgment and scorn all the way to Easter. The followers of Jesus carried grief and despair. But God was not finished speaking.

And all the while, the angels waited.

With peace and hope,
 
Chris
Rev. Chris Henry

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    What Happened on Good Friday?
    Exploring the Meaning of the Cross

    Schedule:

    • Week of March 1: Introduction
    • Week of March 8: Redemption
    • Week of March 15: Satisfaction
    • Week of March 22: Substitution
    • Week of March 29: Revolution

    Study #1: Introduction

    Download pdf of notes and discussion questions

    Notes:

    The cross of Christ stands at the heart of Christian faith. Yet in spite of this fact, or perhaps because of it, Christians have never arrived at a uniform understanding of the meaning of Jesus’s death. Indeed, it has been understood in numerous and sometimes competing ways throughout the history of the church.

    In theological terms, the English word that has come represent different ideas about the meaning of the cross is “atonement.”

    Atonement means being reconciled or in harmony with another (at-one-ment). It describes the work that God did through Christ, particularly on the cross, to bring reconciliation and salvation to the world.

    Throughout the centuries of church history, Christians have employed different explanations, theories, and metaphors to explain what happened on the cross.

    These explanations and theories have always attempted to be faithful to the teaching of scripture, which serves as an ultimate authority for Christian faith.

    Yet in spite of this reliance on the Bible, no single understanding of the cross has emerged in the history of the church.

    This is because:

    1. There are multiple strands of thought in the Bible concerning the meaning of the cross.
    2. These ideas have been appropriated in the midst of different cultural contexts and situations.
    3. These ideas have been conceived and developed in the midst of different, and sometimes competing, church traditions.

    This combination of factors helps us to account for diversity of thought regarding the meaning of the cross in in the history of the church. This class will explore some of the most significant Biblical texts on the meaning of the cross as well as their various interpretations in the Christian tradition.

    Questions for Reflection:

    • Does it surprise you that the Christians have not arrived at a uniform understanding regarding the meaning of the cross? Why or why not? What is your response to this situation?
    • How do you understand the idea of reconciliation or at-one-ment? What do you think that would look like if it actually came to be and how would it be different from what we see in the world today?
    • How do you understand the authority of the Bible in your own life and in the life of the church? Have you ever thought about the different ways in which Christians view the Bible and if so, what difference does this make?
    • What do you think about the idea that the Bible contains more than one way of understanding the meaning of the cross? Does this make sense to you? Why or why not?
    • How do you think different cultures and Church traditions influence the reading and interpretation of the Bible? How do they influence you? What difference does this make and what can we learn from different interpretations?
    • What does the cross of Jesus mean to you? What difference does it make in your life and faith?
    • What is particularly significant to you in this study?
    • What questions do you have?

    Study #2: Redemption

    Download pdf of notes and discussion questions

    Notes and Scripture Texts:

    One of the earliest conceptions of the work of Jesus of the cross is the idea of redemption. Through his death, Jesus redeems humanity from the powers of sin and death. This notion of redemption appears in three particular strands of thought in the Bible and in the history of the church: Recapitulation, Ransom, and Victory.

    Recapitulation:

    Jesus is viewed as the new or second Adam who succeeds where the first Adam failed. Because of Adam’s disobedience the process of human evolution went wrong and could neither be halted nor reversed by humans. Jesus recapitulates the course of human evolution and experience perfectly in obedience to the intentions of God bringing salvation to human kind.

    Ephesians 1:7-10: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    Romans 5:18-19: Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

    Ransom:

    This view teaches that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a ransom, possibly paid to the devil to redeem humanity from his control and free them for salvation. From this perspective, Satan gained dominion over humanity of deceiving Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and leading them to disobey God.

    Matthew 20:25-28: But Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

    Hebrews 2:14-15: Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

    Victory:

    A variation on the ransom theory, this position maintains that the death of Jesus was not the payment of a ransom to the devil, but rather that it was the victory of Christ over the powers of sin and death as well as the devil. Through this victory, humanity experiences liberation from these powers and enjoys renewed life on earth and reconciliation with God.

    1 Corinthians 15:22-26: For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

    Questions for Reflection:

    • What does the idea of redemption mean to you? How do you understand it? Do you think human beings are in need of redemption? Why or why not?
    • Have you ever thought about the life and death of Jesus in terms of a recapitulation of the human experience? What do you think of this idea? Is it meaningful to you?
    • Does the idea of the cross of Jesus as a ransom make sense to you? Why might we need this? Can you think of any contemporary examples of ransom payment?
    • Do you see the cross as a victory of Jesus over death? If so, what does this mean to you? What difference does it make in your life and the lives of others?
    • What is particularly significant to you in this study?
    • What questions do you have?