Posted by: Titus Presler | April 22, 2011

Absorption: An image for understanding God on a cross

Today, Good Friday, the character of the gospel as story washes over us, as it has been doing since the Palm Sunday passion reading.  Waves of narrative engulf us with the drama of dread and suffering that was Jesus’ journey to the cross and into the cross.  So the gospel’s essence as news, a story to be told, is borne in on us, as is the missional mandate to tell that story.  If the story is told, even if nothing more, we are being faithful to our mission, our sentness, to be witnesses.

In hearing the story we wonder at its import.  As Christians we experience the passion story as the fulcrum of God’s engagement with human history, the painful pivot point of whatever it means to say that God has saved or redeemed us.  And we know that a key to that loving work of God is how God connected with, and connects with, our weakness and our sin.

What is the nature of  God’s act in willing to connect with our sin in its manifold manifestations?  “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” proclaimed John the Baptizer, the declaration that opens Part II of Handel’s Messiah.  How does the Lamb of God “take away” the sin of the world?  The Sunday School mantra is that “Jesus saves me from my sins.”  If that is so, how is it so?

Christian tradition has never settled on a single view of the atonement that Jesus offered humanity on a cross of execution.  Yet the power and significance of suffering in the work of reconciliation is central.  Christian devotion has interpreted the suffering in two ways.  Jesus suffering for humanity stresses the sacrifice Jesus undertook to bear the consequences of sin and thereby remove the alienation between humanity and God.  Jesus suffering with humanity stresses his solidarity with the human experience of pain.  In both understandings, the cross receives and represents the estrangement posed by sin and answers with reconciliation.

“The cross receives.”  There I mean God in Christ Jesus receives and accepts the suffering of the human story and all the estranging, cruel and vicious sin that lies behind so much of that suffering.

Absorption is a physical image that may authentically depict God’s willing acceptance of this weight – God absorbing through Jesus’ suffering on the cross the sin and suffering of humanity past, present and future.  God absorbing as the earth absorbs rain.  God absorbing as a sponge absorbs liquid.  God absorbing as a landscape absorbs light.  Absorption is a process with predominantly positive connotations.  That which absorbs is plentiful and powerful – “it can take it.”  Often, as with light and water, what is absorbed is transformed into something else, a new form of life, as with vegetation that grows out of well-rained ground, plants that grow in a well-lit landscape.

For me, the image of absorption connects with the wonderment prompted by the Good Friday story.  The image of God in Christ “bearing” our sin leaves the question of where that burden is then put down.  If the sin is “taken away,” then where is it deposited?  The image of God in Christ “saving us from our sin” really means saving us from the consequences of sin, but it leaves the question of where the sin still resides.

If on this day God in Christ absorbs the sin of the world – ah, there I feel in touch with the depth and breadth, the full scope, of what the missional God may have been up to: God taking into God’s very self the squalor of human sin in all its guilt, outrage, despair, anguish and alienation.  And doing what with it?  Well, that is the mystery.  We don’t and can’t know, only that it is being transformed in a way that will be clear at the consummation of all things: transformed as the rain-absorbing earth raises up forests, transformed as light-absorbing sprouts flourish into plants.

What we do know now is that the absorption prompts God to turn, turn and yet turn again toward us, inviting us with forgiving and welcoming arms into reconciled life with God.

Thanks be to God.

 

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Responses

  1. Sin is absorbed by the Christ or any of his servants and transmuted into love.

  2. Absorption seems to be the word that describes best the reality action of the process of pain as sin meets godliness.

  3. Beautiful, Titus, thanks. And also very fitting for earth day!


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