The Divine Hours of Lent

Friday, by long-standing tradition, is the day of the week assigned, every week, to particular penance and to fasting for the faithful. Just how many observant Christians still fast in some way on Friday nobody knows, nor does it matter much in general terms. But almost all Christians have some sense that Friday is, next to Sunday, a bit “set aside” or “different.”
Whether such is consciously articulated or not, there is a feeling on Fridays of “looking back,” be it simply upon a work-week or, more particularly, on a course of conduct. Either way, the whole thing amounts to a kind of summarizing process. And any human being who summarizes, inevitably discovers something to regret or outright repent of, whether the matter be one of some foolish mistake or one of outright sin. It is the sin that really gets us, and especially during Lent.
Most of us are a bit edgy about sin…not that we don’t believe in it. God knows, one doesn’t have to be an observant anything to perceive that as a species we sin with enormous frequency and enthusiasm. For contemporary Christians and especially during Lent, however, the problem is not so much the business of sin itself as it is the question of how we are, and came to be, forgiven. Or put in church-ese, the question is that of the Atonement. How are we to understand this great gift which Easter celebrates. What metaphor shall we use in order to grasp correctly the nature of what has been given, as well as of the Giver?
Put another way, the question is, did God deliberately sacrifice His Son because there was no other way open to the Father by which to redeem the creation? Did He choose to substitute Himself in order to satisfy conditions and rules of justice and reparation that He had Himself established? Was God then bound by His own constructs? Or is the Easter Story to be understood as necessary for us humans in order for us to understand that there is always life, that though contoured and assaulted, it can not be destroyed, and that we must shape our lives as being those who will be always and forever. Or is the Easter story really a recognition that in our benightedness, we could only understand and receive a scapegoat as proof of our release from sin? Or….
The list goes on. There are some good half dozen or so accepted and earnestly-argued theories and metaphors for trying to articulate what Easter is all about and the divine mechanisms behind it. There are probably another half-dozen or so heterodox or just plain unorthodox ones that are also earnestly argued. The truth is that as an evolving community, we Christians have never really all arrived at one set, totally agreed upon, answer to the questions that the Mystery invites and abounds in. The other truth is that ultimately each one of us has either to decide what he or she thinks or else consciously to decide not to decide. And no one is more aware of that dilemma than is emergent or emerging Christianity. So it is that last week, did a bold, but logical thing.
If you go–and I hope you will–to and input “Atonement Metaphors–A Contest,” you will find not only a succinct and very cogent overview of the problem along with some aids to studying it, but also an invitation….an invitation to consider deeply this Lent the metaphor that most completely or purely or accurately for you, captures and conveys the heart-truth of the crucifixion of Our Lord and your place in it. You will see as well that those who wish to do so, are invited to share their discoveries with other Christians by posting them, in whatever form or medium, on the emergentvillage site.
And five weeks from today, on Good Friday, a group of pastors and theologians–a panel of judges, if you prefer–after studying all the postings, will announce “the winner” and three “runners-up.” Why? Because we human beings are going to establish the central piece of our theology by a contest or votes on a web site? No! Heavens, no! But because at least some of us are going to force ourselves to think deliberately, to expose our confusion candidly, and hopefully–prayerfully–to grow nearer to the real Metaphor by sharing with one another the partial truths each of us has found during this Lent, 2008.

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