All Saints. That’s where our focus was at on Sunday morning. Putting together a bouquet filled with memories of loved ones, some people cried. We all sang.
The Book of Romans makes a bold proclamation: Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Really? Free from death? And what is the evidence for that? Is there any reality that would indicate this is anything other than a theological proposition? And if one were to truly believe it, wouldn’t they be open to the kind of ridicule Richard Dawkins has become famous for leveling against religious people?
Norman Vincent Peale made a living by preaching “positive thinking”. He said things like: “Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure.” So … is the text from Romans 8 quoted above “positive thinking” absent any actual truth?
Some people would say it is very Buddhist to believe that our attitude is more important than the realities we face. Become docile. Let go of ambition. Don’t assume life owes you anything, and simply receive what life offers you with humility of heart and an open mind.
Paul is encouraging us to approach life with such an attitude; but there is more to it than that. We believe that in Christ something has happened. And the possibility of our living “free from the law of sin and death” exists because of who Jesus is and what he has done. The theology of the “atonement” gets all wrapped up in the ancient notion that blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins. One has to wonder if such a theology doesn’t emerge because life even at the most basic physical level requires some other living thing to sacrifice its own life. Jesus’ death on the cross is not special for any particular reason that is immediately obvious. He died young. So have countless millions of others. He was executed though he was innocent. Millions of innocents have been killed. (Note the children hunted down and slaughtered by Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth.)
What set Jesus’ death apart for the early Jewish people who followed him was the “once for all” quality they associated with it. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. Regardless of what we might think about the notion of “sacrifice for sins” today, the fact is that ancient people believed in it with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. For them to come to believe that one man put an end to such a thing is a miracle of major proportions. This was not only liberating; it was life-giving. The reign of sin was over. That’s what Jesus accomplished when he died. And the proof of this was his resurrection. He lives.
I think people came to realize that Jesus was “different” because he had truly lived – all his life long. And they came to believe that if they would live their lives “with him, and “in him”, and “through him”, they could truly live as well – abundantly, no matter what the circumstances, and not just for now … but for ever.