Yesterday, we talked about how the good news story ultimately involves sin, but how we often miss the mark on what we're talking about when we talk about sin. You might want to do yourself a favor and read that post before you carry on with this one.
I am awful, simply awful, at mathematics. To this day I have these nightmares about quiz sheets that got passed around in elementary school, to see how quickly you'd learned your multiplication tables. The answer in my case was: not very quickly. There was this little owl that sat atop the page of these speed drills every week, and while I'm certain the artist intended the owl to be smiling, I am certain he was smirking. Ridiculing me in fact. "Whoo whoo! You stink loser!"
Perhaps it's the laughing owl's fault, but I've always preferred a story, something with narrative and passion, rather than just cold, logical, factual numbers. Which is why the way I think about 75% of Christians approach the Gospel offends me so deeply. It's because for a lot of Christians, the Gospel message can be reduced to math.
See if this sounds familiar: You are a sinner. The punishment for sin is death. Jesus Christ came to earth to die on the cross, the death you so richly deserved. Therefore, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you will get to go to heaven. The equation looks like this:
Sinner + Death of Jesus = Heaven
This is sneaky for a couple of reasons, chief among them is because it's all true. If you search the scriptures, you will in fact find evidence to support the above equation. But there are several problems with it. For starters, if you subscribed to this story only, you would have absolutely no need of Easter Sunday. If Jesus only needed to die for your sins, your Christian story would be able to comfortably end at Good Friday. Mission accomplished. What then would we do with the gifts of the Easter Bunny? A world without Cadbury Eggs? Say it ain't so!
But seriously folks, Easter is the (with all apologies to Christmas fans) quintessential holiday for Christians. We remember and joyously celebrate on that day that Jesus Christ beat back death, something we'll turn to in a moment. So if your basic theology has no room for the highest of holy days, are you perhaps missing something?
The other thing I don't like about equation theology is that it's just too boring. Equation theology kind of turns this life into a waiting room, complete with Highlights for Children. We walk around here, screw up a lot, and then if we believe in Jesus we get to go on to heaven, where we'll get this same life, only forever? No thanks. That kind of life just sounds so awful to me. My good friend Ed says it well when he says that being a Christian to get to heaven is like getting married to make sure someone will be there to take care of you when you retire. Again, it's all true. Someone will take care of you when you retire, and Jesus' death on the cross does in fact pay the debt of sin that will allow us to get to heaven. All of that is true. It's just missing so much.
So if not equation theology, what should we adopt? As usual, I'm a big fan of getting my theology straight from Jesus:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
Death has been beaten, which means that we have life. This is so much bigger and better than a free ticket to heaven, because you see Death has a lot of friends. Yes, there is the final death where our lungs stop breathing in the goodness of oxygen, but there's a lot of little deaths that we face each and every day. When a young person is bullied on the school ground, that feels a good bit like death. When a LGBTQ youth is made to feel less than human, that feels a good bit like death. When the lure of success snares us, and we spend more time working to serve the almighty dollar than we do to enjoy our families and friends, that feels a good bit like death. There are so many deaths around us, and some of them are sneaky as all giddy up. Ask someone with lung cancer if they felt like death was knocking on the door the first time they lit up a cigarette. I bet they say now. Death and all of his friends can feel really good at first, until things take a turn.
What Easter Sunday reminds us is that Jesus has beaten death, and that includes all of his friends. Easter Sunday reminds us that Jesus himself came that we would have life and life to the fullest, not just when we get to heaven, but here and now. Through Christ, we have the power to beat back the deaths of bullying, dehumanizing, materialism, sexism, addiction, and on and on. Jesus has something to say about each and every bad news story we read or hear. Jesus has something to say to the least of these among us. Jesus has something to say anywhere death pokes his ugly hood and asserts his rule. He has none. It's game over.
So to wrap up this rambling post, if your theology doesn't celebrate life, if your understanding of the Gospel holds down rather than lifts up, or if you just simply see the world as a waiting room for later glory, you're doing it wrong. Jesus is way more about the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven than he is about waiting. So let's go! Let's live! Let's enjoy the goodness of God in our every day, starting right now!