At-one-ment and the cross
An Easter Essay, 2021
In the Christian story, the cross is the historical moment that changes everything. The cross is the instrument that brings peace between humans and God, human and humans, humans and creation. This is the making of at-one-ment. Sunday’s resurrection makes visible what happened in Friday’s crucifixion.
“The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of a victory.”
The cross – and Jesus on it – is the ultimate revealing of the eternal character of God.
Jesus reveals who God is and what God is like. Jesus points to and reveals Abba, who Abba was in the beginning, is always and forever will be. To see Jesus is to see the one who sent him. The chief purpose of seeing is not to worship Jesus but to follow. Jesus is the way. And the way is the way of the cross.
Declaring ‘Jesus is Lord’ means there is no other master and there is no other way. In our following we are transformed. In following the world is transformed for God works in and through us. In this way following becomes worshipful.
The effect wrought through the death and resurrection of Jesus is so big and so wonderful, no one description is enough. There is no one summary. Here below are multiple descriptions of the at-one-ment event in the cross. Two questions are addressed:
What is the power of the cross to win at-one-ment? (What does the cross do?)
How can we follow in the way of the cross? (What do we practise?)
The cross marks victory over death. Friday is the moment of victory, Sunday reveals its reality. The cross is the death that ends all death.
Liberated from habits of anxious or triumphant material acquisitioning, a lightness of spirit is practised and expressed in the treasuring of what does not perish: beauty, truth, love, friendship, community, time, sunset.
Liberated from fear, each new day is lived as a choice for life, actively choosing life through mini deaths: service as perfect freedom; forgiving as strength; giving in order to have; losing in order to find and ruling by giving not having power.
Joy is practised. The fruits of the Spirit are practised: love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control
The cross marks God’s supreme act of solidarity with human suffering. The Divine is wedded to the human condition. Crucifixion and the cry of “my God, my God” marks Jesus’ union with the universal human moan and turns anguish into the pangs of labour.
God’s solidarity with humanity turns us towards others in mercy. A spiritual discipline is the contemplation of compassion (eg meditation and iconography).
Compassion is practiced in:
- openness to the distress and suffering of others;
- intentional acts of mercy;
- solidarity alongside the suffering of others, (joining the moan in order to ‘be a part of the newness God is birthing’, Dr Barbara Holmes)
The cross is God’s eternal light that enters the utter darkness and shines, unbroken.
In the reflected radiance of God’s light, we practice shining this little light of ours, always choosing life, always participating in the redeeming of others, moments, situations.
Whilst no faithful fool walks with faux courage into evil, it does mean that even in darkness, God is present. It is possibly to practice lighting a candle in the midst of darkness, hopeful in the knowledge that Jesus has entered the darkness and shone.
The cross is Jesus’ perfect, nonjudgmental, full-bodied gift of attentive presence, the eternal ‘I hear you’, releasing healing without shame.
Because we are heard, we listen; we practice full-bodied, attentive, non-judgmental loving presence in each and every moment. (Br Lawrence, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann)
The cross is God’s supreme demonstration of love – that while all are sinners, the second person of the Trinity died for us.
Every person everywhere is worthy of God’s love, a love so big the very essence of Trinitty is taken to the edge of non-existence. A simple practice follows: we meet and engage each person as a subject worthy of God’s love and demanding of our own. No matter the history, beliefs, context, flaws, our movement towards the other is made with a heart full of love. A few simple questions can be asked: are you OK?; what do you need?; how can I serve you?
The cross is the pinnacle of God’s self-disclosure; what we see in the cross is who God was, is and always will be, for ‘In the beginning was the Word’ and this word was always outpouring, self-donating, creating and redeeming.
Authenticity of self is practiced. The life-long journey of living into one’s full and true self is kept, shaking off hypocrisy, anxiety, rivalry, living into integrity. (ref Thomas Merton)
The primary sense making lens for reading Scripture is the cross. The Old and New Testaments are read through the lens of the crucified Christ.
The journey into authenticity and the journey into Christ likeness are two sides of the same coin. The Beatitudes are (regularly) read and practised.
The cross is the event in which God pays the ransom to Satan that releases humankind from bondage to evil and sin. (This is one of the oldest explanatory narrativers and can be dated right back to the earliest roots of the church, Origen in particular.)
- A deep and abiding practice of gratitude is practiced, the chains of slavery are broken.
- Holy Communion – the Great Thanksgiving – is kept.
- The Fruits of the Spirit are practiced.
The cross simultaneously reveals God’s eternal disposition of unconditional loving kindness and humankind’s thrall with fear and violence.
- the command to love our neighbour. (M. Teresa)
- neighbourly love as love of the enemy (requiring the rejection of simple binary mindsets and us-verse-them distinctions).
- the two hands of pac e bene (peace and nonviolence): the first hand unflinchingly rejects your bigotry, violence, vitriol; the second hand remains open to and welcoming of your humanity
- Kindness and love, free of the need for reward.
As the evil inclination lives within each and every person, humility is a lifelong practice, including regular habits and seasons of self-examination and repentance.
The cross is the full manifestation of the Wisdom of God, revealing redemption and creation to be the same activity, the same emanation, the same work. All things are made through the living Word. Jesus is God’s Wisdom, is at the heart of creating and where self-donation (kenosis) is Wisdom’s foolish way. The cross binds creation into the heart of God.
We practise Sabbath, a being at home where we live (knowing and loving our place), in harmony with creation living with future generations in mind.
We practise kenosis (self emptying) and the donation of self for the increase of others.
The cross is the final act of creation and the moment of the world’s re-founding.
We practice being born again, living today the promise of tomorrow in radical discipleship to Christ.
The cross completes the unmasking of the scapegoat mechanism.
We practise peace making. We are attuned to scapegoating and its mechanism and never ever, ever participate in the mob. We stand with the victim (Rene Girard) and resist all inclination to make victims.
We also resist the temptation play the role of victim. We are, after all, “more than conquerors”.
The cross is the sacrifice that ends sacrificing through the work of the forgiving, Innocent Victim.
We practise kenosis (self emptying) and the donation of self for the increase of others.
We practise a disposition of a contrite heart, the poverty of spirit and the sacrifice of praise.
We practise peace making and solidarity with the victim.
The cross marks the eternal overthrow of the Satan. The cross exposes, shames and vanquishes the principalities and powers.
We practice tuning the ears of our heart to the Holy Spirit, aligning our hearts to the power of love (not the love of power).
We recognise where the coercive forces of evil set one against another and provoke enmity. We practise peace making.
We practise identifying and rejecting the accusations of the Accuser, the lies of the Father of Lies.
The cross is the perfect demonstration of non-violent politics that kills the myth of redemptive violence, voids every call to arms, annuls all authority in war, asserting true Lordship.
We practise the wily, subversive rejection of empire, nationalism and all coercive power. (Brian Zahnd)
As ‘Jesus is Lord’, no authority, no national interest, no thing is greater. We embrace nonviolence and practise peace-making.
The cross is the apocalypse (uncovering) of humankind’s complicity with evil, exposing the root of all violence sits deep within the human heart. The cross overturns the murderous act that hides the truth and raises the voice of the victim.
Knowing the ‘evil inclination’ lives within, the mob is in us, we actively seek out peaceful models to be molded into (pacific mimesis). We practise repentence; we participate in peace-making.
We attend to the voices of the victim and advocate for the truth they embody.
The cross is the Eternal moment of forgiveness: ‘father, forgive them’
We practise forgiveness (because we are forgiven, we forgive).
The cross is the irreversible untying of the bonds of sin.
We are no longer slaves. In receipt of unconditional love, unmerited forgiveness, transforming grace, we practice open, gracious kindness, paying forward extravagant generosity.
The cross is the Song of Creation piercing human deafness, killing the lie of acquisitive, anxious self-interest, redeeming the moral imagination for participation in the healing of all things.
We practise alignment to the way of Christ, being in tune and in harmony with the song of creation, forever engaging in the healing and redeeming of people, moments, relationships, history.
The cross is the ultimate model of discipleship.
The original taking up of the cross was to stand with Jesus as Lord and no other, even under threat of death. We practise discipleship and follow Jesus in the way of the Cross, learning how to give unbonded love and serve in a way that gives power.
The cross is the beauty that saves the world.
Practise beauty: see beauty, recognize beauty, attend to beauty, delight in beauty, participate in beauty, share beauty.
The cross was a curse. It was the original cuss. The cross is the instrument of public, state sanctioned torturous humiliation. Victims were naked. The cross was not up high but low enough for passers-by to be able to spit on and assault the crucified. As Josephus records, sexual abuse on the cross was not unknown. All who hung on a cross had their humanity torn away.
It is profoundly offensive to suppose God could become human. And then this same God is crucified? Yet more than just being crucified, the cross is Jesus’ coronation – declaring this alarming truth, the cross is who God is! The entry into Jerusalem was his royal parade, the ring of thorns his crown, the wood of the cross his elevated throne; the accompanying criminals the cherubim. God in Jesus totally identifies with the cross as his way to rule. All of this is completely-off-the-charts offensive. This is where we find God as God truly is. Jesus has turned this sophisticated instrument of grotesque inhumanity into the most precious thing of beauty.
This beauty saves the world.
This is where this essay ends.
Except one metaphor of the cross has been neglected. It is the one that has come to dominate all others. It is called the Penal Substitution Atonement theory (PSA). It took its shape in the sixteenth century under Calvin. He built on Anselm’s 12th Century Satisfaction theory that was itself a development on the ransom metaphor from the earliest days of the church. The PSA Theory has colonised all the other metaphors and controls most of the public’s imagination.
The PSA in short:
- God requires punishment for sin;
- God loves humanity so much that he puts forward his son Jesus as a substitute who saves human beings from the consequences of sin;
- Belief in Jesus releases his saving power.
Beneath this equation lies a troubling logic. These are some of the disturbing consequences:
- God is fundamentally angry, not merciful.
- Jesus is needed to save humanity from the anger and inherent violence of God.
- Jesus pleads to and successfully changes God’s mind (a denial of the scriptures where Jesus is the face of God, whatever Abba says Jesus speaks, if you see Jesus you see the one who sent him …)
- God ends up having a greater master – loosely called justice. This is because it is apparently impossible for God to ‘just forgive’. Justice also makes it impossible for sin to go unpunished.
- As punishment is required, either punishment falls on the individual, or a substitute. Either God requires the damnation of the soul or Jesus’ obedience to death. In PSA violence is inherent to God and God’s justice.
- In PSA theory God can live with the eternal conscious damnation of one person. And by extension, God can live with a great many living in eternal conscious damnation.
- Within the PSA theory, human beings can have more compassion than God with the ability to lovingly embrace those who fall outside the “legal” demands made by sin.
- In PSA the way punishment is personally and individually avoided is through a cognitive process called ‘belief’. Whilst it is expected to have material effect on behaviour, a disconnect is often allowed. Belief trumps behaviour.
- Compassion and care for people and planet become disconnected from the life of faith.
- The myth of redemptive violence is perpetuated.
- PSA theory becomes the test for orthodox belief, aka the gospel, and if you don’t subscribe, use its coded phrases and word images, you are not a believer, you are not Christian. As a faithful bishop relayed a conversation from an accusatory vicar, “Bishop, I have never heard you preach the gospel once”. The translation being, the bishop has not used any visual or vocal cues that identify Jesus as the sacrifice that will save souls from eternal conscious hell.
- Belief in PSA becomes the definition of orthodox Christianity.
- If the ‘image of God’ contains violence, then violence can be accepted, prayed for and embraced; God becomes ruthless, not compassionate and humans, who are made in the image of God beget god in their own image and receive their own divine permission to be ruthless in kind. An examination of the January 6 insurrection is worth exploring.
It is no exaggeration to say that all other meaningful descriptions of the efficacy of the cross as listed above are colonised and subsumed in PSA theory.
END note: on the January 6 Insurrection
The insurrectionist prayer from the storming of the Capitol on Jan 6 is an example of the relationship between the God of violence and ‘faithful insurrection’. Passionate nationalists have a willingness to ‘die for the flag’ (“no matter what, even if it kills you, remain a free man”, time stamp 11.50). It is a short step from dying for the flag to killing for the flag. The cries that day of “traitors to the guillotine” is audio for the mob killing of police officer Brian Sicknick.
From 8.03 min Jacob Chansley, self appointed Q Anon Shaman makes a ‘prayer’. His use of ‘white light’ is no accident.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for gracing us with this opportunity [takes off fur hat and black knit hat]… Thank you, heavenly Father, for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights. Thank you, heavenly Father, for giving the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into this building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow America, the American way of the United States of America to go down.
Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Creator God, for filling this chamber with your white light of love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Creator God, for blessing each and every one of us here and now. Thank you, divine Creator God, for surrounding us with your divine, omnipresent white light of love and protection, peace and harmony. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government. We love you, and we thank you. In Christ’s holy Name, we pray. Amen.
 The cross is not separate from the incarnation but the natural consequence of the Word being flesh.
 Note: Death can swallow the Life-Light, but cannot digest it. Death is shattered from the inside.