Formation: What is the gospel?
Throughout this series we have offered four ways of looking at the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; four ways that complement each other as we think through the meaning of this event:
1. Jesus death and resurrection as an archetype of fundamental reality.
We see in the death and resurrection a symbol of that which underpins all of reality. There is death and there is new life, and we’re invited to participate in that. And there’s dying to certain ways of being, to ego, to violence, to our dehumanising treatment of others etc. We allow that stuff to die, and we experience the new life that comes out the other side.
2. Jesus death as the death of God.
At the very least, we can say that certain ideas of God die on the cross with Christ: the warrior God, the tribal deity, the God who can be used as a framework for controlling and managing access to human flourishing. Those visions of God die at the cross. And so does the view of a God who is far off from our pain and suffering. Instead we have the divine entering into the midst of human pain, even the feeling of abandonment by God. Jesus is our companion in the valley of suffering and death.
3. Jesus life as a resistance of religious and political oppression
Jesus opposes the use of religion in oppression, manipulation, violence and control, and his resurrection is a vindication of the way of the ‘lamb that was slain’ in contrast to the beasts of violent empires. Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, even to the point of death.
4. Jesus death and resurrection as exposing the scapegoating mechanism of redemptive violence and the end of the sacrificial system.
In the story of Jesus we are confronted with our human capacity for evil and for using “redemptive” violence to solve our problems. The scapegoating mechanisms and the problem of bloodthirsty sacrificial rituals (and the view of God they promote) are exposed and overcome in the story of Jesus, and we are given an invitation to live differently in the world by the life and power of the Spirit.
In light of all of this, what might we say about the gospel?
Here, I am reminded of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount; the sermon where Jesus preaches the gospel (well before he is killed and raised!). I have re-worded these beatitudes in way that I think opens up for us again what might be going on in these ancient declarations of Jesus.
“God is with those who are down-and-out and who don’t have it all together.
God is with those who are in deep grief, a grief that makes them unable to participate fully in the so-called successful strategies of everyday life.
God is with those who do not use power and strength over others in order to make their way in the world.
God is with those who desire that things would be put right and that the unjust systems of the world would be dismantled.
God is with those who show mercy and forgiveness to one another, rather than seeking retribution for the ways in which they feel they have been wronged.
God is with those who recognise that it is the heart that matters, not just the external indicators of approved behaviour.
God is with those who resist ways of violence and oppression in the world, and instead seek to become agents of peace and reconciliation between those who do not yet understand or love one another.
God is with those who, because they seek to live in this kind of reality, encounter the oppression and disdain of those with power, wealth, and status.”
This is the message of the kingdom of God that Jesus preaches and embodies. He is executed by the religious and political powers as a troublemaker, and as a scapegoat. But God uses our sins to save us. His death becomes the death of violent and tribal images of God, his death is the death of belief in a distant and uninterested God, his death is woven into the fabric of all deaths that lead to new life. And the symbol of his resurrection invites us to live as different kinds of humans in the world. We are encouraged to live in the light of the story of Jesus, the revelation of a God of love, and in the power of a new Spirit. We are confronted with ourselves, but offered radical grace and acceptance and invited into a taking up of responsibility to live differently in the world. Reconciled with God, reconciling with each other, reconciling with ourselves, and reconciling with all of creation.