The Cross Through a Trinitarian Lens

Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion

Augustine writes in Bk. IV, Ch. 3 of De Trinitate,

Now there are four things to be considered in every sacrifice: whom it is offered to, whom it is offered by, what it is that is offered, and whom it is offered for. And this one true mediator, in reconciling us to God by his sacrifice of peace, would remain one with him to whom he offered it, and make one in himself those for whom he offered it, and be himself who offered it one and the same as what he offered.

 

I don’t know about which theological conversations are the popular ones in other Christian traditions, but evangelicals and liberal Protestants talk a lot about the relationship between violence and the atonement. The views which at least recognize that this is a problem worth reckoning with are as far-ranging as A.) Insisting we recognize Christ as victim of the evil of violence (versus God as promoter of violence for our salvation) to X.) Decentralizing the Cross as the place where reconciliation is accomplished (see Delores S. Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness). [I leave out Y and Z, because there probably are a Y and a Z out beyond Williams.]

On this Good Friday, what are we thinking about the Cross? What are we hearing in sermons today (and what are we preaching)? What do we believe happened on the Cross in time and in eternity? Finally, how do we make sense of the Cross’ violence?

Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testament undeniably and regularly speak of God’s reconciliation with humankind and all of Creation in the language of sacrifice. However, there are wrong ways and right ways (and worse ways and better ways) to understand that sacrificial language and what it says about the character of God. One route that we cannot take when approaching these texts is this: contrary to some broad brushstrokes takes on human history brought to bear on Biblical criticism (whether by Borg/Crossan or Girard), there is not some monolithic, bloodthirsty, primitive humanity that can be blamed for twisting up the Gospel into an unrecognizable state, marred by humans’ love of violence.

I am convinced that all our arguments are really about one question: Who is God? This is why I quote Augustine. When Christians talk about God at all, we are talking about the Trinity (Gregory Nazianzen, memorably: “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”). Our talk of the atonement and of the Cross and of sacrifice is just one of many areas in which we tend to forget this and to start talking of a God who is not Trinitarian (that is, a “God’ who is not God).

In our beliefs, in our thinking, in our reading, in our speech, in our arguments, is the Cross a Trinitarian action of God? Does our Jesus “remain one with him to whom he offered” himself? If not, our Cross is not the Cross of Christ, and our atonement is not the one which God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–accomplished. But, if Jesus crucified indeed remains one with the Godhead, then how we must re-understand the nature of our atonement with God and what the Cross has to do with it?


Bonus Link: “Pope Francis, Marc Chagall and the Jews” (RNS)

 

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Tuesday Reading Roundup

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I quoted it yesterday and raved about it last week. Read Wolf Hall, then read this. (Or if someone else already has Wolf Hall checked out from your library, read Bring Up the Bodies then Wolf Hall.)

“Emptying the Bell: An Interview with Peter Matthiessen” by Lawrence Shainberg. In the wake of Matthiessen’s death this past week, Daniel Burke (@BurkeCNN) tweeted the link to this illuminating piece from the Fall 1993 issue of Tricycle.

“How to read the Bible” by Celia Wolff. Wolff is a Th.D. candidate at Duke, and she has provided with this post a fantastic, brief way for anyone (whether Biblical scholar, theologian, preacher, layperson, or reader of the Bible as literature) to learn to read the Bible better. Seriously, if you are interested in the Bible at any level or in any way, read this, post it to your Facebook wall, tweet it, email it to your church’s preacher(s). (Thanks for serving us all with this one, Celia! However this post relates to bigger projects you’re working on, you are doing it right.)

“Learning guitar licks and other tricks at Afghanistan’s Rock School Kabul” by Larisa Epatko. A burgeoning rock scene in Kabul is being helped along by music educators.

“Life Is Short, Proust Is Long” by James Camp. It’s not so much that I agree with this fairly critical read of what SpritzInc.com is trying to do for the world of reading, but that conversations with friends about this article brought me back around to reassessing the usefulness of speed-reading in my own life.

On the Trinity by AugustineDoesn’t need my recommendation, but if you’re familiar with it, I’m about to begin Book IV. Also, buy the edition I linked to. The footnotes and various introductions written by translator Edmund Hill are fantastic.

“The Other’s Language: Jacques Derrida Interviews Ornette Coleman, 23 June 1997” translated by Timothy S. Murphy. A beautiful and natural pairing that I would not have known to wish for, if I had not learned this week that it happened.

“The Praying Habit: Catholic” by Carolyn Browender. Over at Killing the Buddha, Browender has been pursuing a Lenten discipline of praying within various traditions other than her own (and you can see them all here). In this particular post, she talks through her relationship to Catholicism, her favorite saints, and her attempts at learning the rosary, along the way describing how her relationship with all of that is one of both consternation and blessing.

The Sonnets of William Shakespeare. Reading about Henry VIII has me wanting to read more about the other Henrys and about Elizabeth I, which leads me to Shakespeare. From Sonnet III:

Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.


Tuesday Reading Roundup has been a regular feature of this blog and its predecessor for several years. Entries must: 1) Have been read by me in the previous week; 2) Have been particularly interesting, thought- or conversation-provoking, and/or entertaining.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

 

 

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. When DC was trying to relaunch some classics with 1980s grit and sadness, they turned to Frank Miller, who had already written The Dark Knight Returns. Year One is the story of the rising of James Worthington Gordon and The Batman, who in this telling both arrived to clean up Gotham on the same day. The new show Gotham has to be laboring under Frank Miller’s Batman’s shadow once again, although I’ve not read anything directly connecting the show to this book. At any rate, among the best parts of Year One has to be this.

Benediction by Kent Haruf. A few years ago, I adored Haruf’s Plainsong. Benediction has that earlier novel’s same simplicity, strong characterization, and focus on real story (not plot-drivenness, but story). For one instance that stands out in contemporary fiction, there are very few living novelists who can describe a meeting in a church basement where the basement is real and the people in it are real and the things they talk about and argue about and speak spitefully and speak charitably about are real. Holt, Colorado–where all of Haruf’s novels take place–is a real place.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Mantel’s Wolf Hall was among the best books of 2009, and its sequel is somehow just as good. The two books (and a third in-the-making) follow the life of Thomas Cromwell, who was born a commoner but rose to be a chief adviser to Henry VII (historical spoiler alert: but did not end his life happily). I am not someone who loves every British historical drama that comes along, but this is not just historical fiction. It’s just a great and ambitious novel. Which I’m only 1/4 of the way through.

“A Net, at last, for the Golden Gate Bridge?” by Tad FriendSixteen-hundred suicides in since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate might finally be getting a net.

“An Open Letter to the Director of Blue Jasmine by Wade Sheeler. Although I’ve closely read most of the articles appearing in the wake of the resurfacing of child sexual abuse allegations, this isn’t one of them. Admittedly that makes it safer to share, but in my defense, it’s just a good article and few of the sex abuse allegation articles are. It’s from August 2013, and it calls Woody Allen to task for refusing to move beyond his long-time soundtrack choices.

Steve Jobs said a thing in an interview once, which was quoted on Twitter. It really reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s word to beginning writers that the most important thing is to actually finish what you’ve started, because the process is so great a teacher.

The Trinity (this ed.) by Saint Augustine. This is going to be on here a while. The introduction by Edmund Hill is fantastic, worth reading on its own for situating Augustine’s work theologically and historically. And then I shared a bit from Augustine himself yesterday.

“‘Tuches Sleeps With the Dictionary!’: Remembering Lester Schonbrun, and the dingy Times Square games parlor where he found a second home” by Stefan Fatsis. In this obituary over at Slate, Fatsis leads the reader into the wild world of boardgame hustlers and champions in 1960s and 1970s New York City.

“Waving to Virginia: Patti Smith Reads Virginia” by Maria Popova. Brain Pickings remembers the death of Virginia Woolf on March 28, 1941 with an archived performance/reading by Patti Smith.


Tuesday Reading Roundup has been a regular feature of this blog and its predecessor for a few years. Entries must: 1) Have been read by me in the previous week; 2) Have been interesting, thought-provoking, and/or entertaining.

St. Augustine’s “Sheets of Sound”

John Coltrane icon

One of saxophonist John Coltrane’s trademarks was his so-called “sheets of sound” technique. It’s a sound that attracts the non-jazz-listener with its virtuosity, a sound that beginning sax players will try to emulate in their own early solos, and a sound that comes full circle with mature horn players and listeners hearing that beneath what sounds like pure flash is miles of depth. At least when Coltrane did it.

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne

One of Augustine’s techniques also had a “sheets of sound” quality to it. He had the Scriptures and a host of other texts virtually memorized, and at times he would pull out all the stops (to mix musical metaphors), with results like this from De Trinitate, Bk.1, Ch.4:

In the form of God, all things were made by him (Jn 1:3); in the form of a servant he himself was made of woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4). In the form of God, he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30); in the form of a servant, he did not come to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him (Jn 6:38). In the form of God, as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have life in himself (Jn 5:26); in the form of a servant, his soul is sorrowful to the point of death, and Father, he said, if it can be, let this cup pass by (Mt 26:38). In the form of God, he is true God and life eternal (1 Jn 5:20); in the form of a servant, he became obedient to the point of death, the death even of the cross (Phil 2:8).

In the form of God, everything that the Father has is his (Jn 16:15), and all yours is mine, he says, and mine yours (Jn 17:10); in the form of a servant, his doctrine is not his own, but his who sent him (Jn 7:16).

Courageous Faith

A Christological Reading of Genesis 12:1-4
from March 16, 2014 (Lent 2A) at New Horizon UMC, Champaign, IL

Genesis 12:1-4 (NRSV)
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

The Communion of Saints and Pastoral Care

All Saints Icon

We believe in…the communion of saints!

I return to connecting pastoral care to the saints because when Christian ministers say that we believe in the communion of saints, part of what we are saying is that we cannot do ministry apart from the communion of saints. A reactionary Protestantism (not to be confused with all of Protestantism, as if there were any “all of Protestantism”) limits this truth to the living community while forgetting (or ignoring) that Jesus names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob among God’s living community.

When we do ministry, we are not ministering alone. We are the hands, feet, hearts, and bodies of Christ in the room. We are also the hands, feet, hearts, and bodies of those who have died in Christ and continue to do the work of Christ with Christ and in Christ. The whole Church prays from under the altar. This is that noisy Church which the lucky ones among us have already experienced, the church that talks back and prays back: “Help him, Lord!” and “Help her, Lord!” and “Amen,” while we as Christian ministers are offering ourselves at the bedside, in the hospital, in the prison, at the gravesite.

One Gorgeous Bee Meditation

Himalayan Honeybee

Who knew that Merton cared so much for the bees? Not I, until Kathleen Deignan gathered all of them together in one place in her edited collection of Merton’s nature writings (which I am loving more each page), When the Trees Say Nothing. The following is just one gorgeous bee meditation, excerpted from the final volume of Merton’s journals, The Other Side of the Mountain: The End of the Journey. (It’s worth noting that in his hermitage years at Gethsemani, Merton was increasingly drawn to nature and nature writers such as Thoreau):

Nonviolent Himalayan bees: after one had lit on me quietly three times without stinging, I let it crawl on my head a while, picking up sweat for some eclectic and gentle honeycomb, or just picking up sweat for no reason. Another crawled on my hand and I studied it. Certainly a bee. I could not determine whether it was stingless, or just well behaved.