Romans 5.1-8. Epistle for Lent 3 (A)
In recent weeks the developed world has been reminded that the forces of nature are often incomprehensible and beyond human control. As is often the case when our ordinary lives are shaken by the unknown we search for explanations. Some self designated experts assert they understand the mystery of the Divine and are able to proclaim with utter certainty (I am not sure if it is because of hubris or sincere ignorance) that tragedy reflects the judgment of God upon a faithless people. Their word is not the last word.
The apostle asserts “we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. However we are not exempt from pain, sorrow, disappointment, and tragedy. Indeed the apostle, and many since him, have tried to explain how Jesus' suffering and death rescues humanity from nihilism.
Theological interpretations of the suffering and death of Jesus seek to explain the suffering and death experienced by humanity and the creation. We affirm he died for us, but our words are not able to exhaust its meaning.
Professor David Bartlett of Columbia Theological Seminary writes, “We struggle to come up with a doctrine of the atonement, and all the classical solutions seem fall short. Paul was blessed by a richly unsystematic mind. His language about what Jesus does shifts from verb to verb: Christ saves; Christ justifies; Christ reconciles. His description of what Christ does shifts from metaphor to metaphor: an obedient second Adam undoes the disobedience of the first. A sinless man is made to be sin. A godly Messiah dies for ungodly people.
The claim outreaches all our metaphors. The name embraces all our weaknesses: Jesus Christ, access to God's grace; where we stand.”
As we continue to wrestle with the meaning of life and death, we wrestle with the knowledge that we are not alone in this struggle. Dorothy Sayers reminds us that a unique claim of Christianity is that God is with us. In her essay "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged" Ms. Sayers writes, “...for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat despair, and death.”
The United Church of Christ's Statement of Faith affirms God's solidarity with these words: “In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.”
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). This Word is God's promise and our hope.