Shortly after the Church celebrates the Feast of Christmas, she puts before us in the readings for daily Mass the stark reminder that the child who was "snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug" in the creche is the same child that will, as an adult, "hang-forsaken-and-forelorn" upon the Cross for our sins. Tuesday's reading from the First Letter of John states that, "He [Jesus] is expiation for our sins, and not our sins only but those of the whole world." (1 John 2:2).
The word, "expiation" is a curious word that has been used from earliest times to describe one of the "effects" brought about by the birth, life, ministry, passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus. The word means to "atone" or to "make atonement for" and is most often associated with how Jesus' death brought about forgiveness of sins and affected reconciliation between God and humanity. While it certainly is true that Jesus' death "atoned" for human sin and essentially built a "bridge" of reconciliation between God and humanity, there is a bit of a "slippery slope" in limiting Jesus' "saving" actions to his passion and death alone: this essentially separates creche from Cross and can inadvertently "negate" to a sometimes disturbing degree the "saving" content of Jesus' journey (his teachings, healings, and, perhaps most importantly, his solidarity with the poor, sinful, and those regarded as "reprobate" or the "outcasts" of society).
If we are to keep the meaning of the creche vitally connected to the meaning of the Cross, in speaking of Jesus' life and death as "expiation" for our sins, it's essential to focus on the journey of Christ and approach "expiation" not as the issuing of a "blank check" of forgiveness for sins, but, rather, as a saving path and journey that has been opened up between humanity and God in and through the precise way that Jesus lived, suffered, and died. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of being "forgiven" in Christ (and therefore, being "saved") if one is not walking the path of Christ (reaching out to others in healing and especially in solidarity). After all, Jesus states quite explicitly, "I am the Way, the Truth, and The Life." Jesus does not write "blank checks" of forgiveness, healing, and transformation but removes sin as an obstacle so that we can journey the self same "saving" path or "Way" to the Father. Only by making the mysterious journey from "creche" to "Cross" in our own lives and in the lives of others will we then truly experience what forgiveness, healing, and transformation in Christ is all about. Pat, TOR
Wednesday, December 29, 2010