In writing about our union with Christ I offered the following as the response to a question. It seemed to me, worth a posting of its own, though it be short. I have, however, added a few thoughts to it.
There are many ways of which to speak of Christ’s work on the Cross, all of them, of course, seeing it as central. In some ways, it is the whole of the Old Testament in a single moment. Which image of sacrifice is not fulfilled in that Great Sacrifice, and yet there are many images? Christ is also the Paschal Lamb, which itself is not part of the normal sacrificial system and yet it is in the Cross as well.
Nor does the sacrificial system make much sense except by some aspect of union with that which is offered. But on the Cross, Christ completes His union with us, if I may be so bold, by assuming even our death that by death He might trample down death.
The mistake too easily made is to think of the Cross as only one thing. The Cross is everything. All things are summed up and completed by Christ on the Cross, just so, everything is summed up and healed in His resurrection from the Dead. On the Cross He is the serpent lifted in the wilderness. On the Cross He is the Lamb of the Passover. On the Cross He is the Offering of Atonement. On the Cross He is Moses’ staff stretched over the waters of the Red Sea. On the Cross He is the arms of Moses stretched out at the destruction of Amalek. On the Cross He is the ram in the thicket that God gave in place of Isaac. On the Cross He is Blood poured out on the Mercy Seat. On the Cross He is the love of God made manifest in its utter self-emptying. On the Cross He is the Bridegroom now come for His bride to bring her back from the dead. On the Cross He is man in His alienation from God and God in His union with man.
All of these are part of the fullness of what it means to be forgiven, and I have only barely touched the edge of it. God has reconciled us to Himself through the Cross of Christ. This is not to say one thing – it is to say everything.
We’ll have read my writings wrong if it is seen that I have offered “the” explanation of the Cross. The Cross is the explanation of everything else, while no one other thing can explain the Cross.
Thinking of the Cross as “one thing” inevitably lead to the wide variety of “atonement theories” found in Western theology, both Protestant and Catholic. Fortunately, some Western systematicians (My Anglican systematics prof, for one), having studied all the various theories, have concluded that indeed, the Cross is everything and that it isn’t “one thing” best explained by a theory.
Well said, Father. Clarity and concision are marks of deep understanding. Thanks for sharing your wise and mature reflections with us.
Thank you so much for this. Such wonderful clarity. This ‘thing’ goes deeper than any of us have dared to imagine…
Thanks for the reply. It seems to me that, given this emphasis on the recapitulatory work of Christ with healing being our guiding metaphor, that something like the following makes sense: Since forgiveness always has in mind a restored relationship and not some legal reparation, the fact that we could not receive forgiveness without the Cross was due to our own captivity to corruption and not some problem that was God’s to deal with. We simply could not keep falling away, so there could be no true reconciliation as long as we were prone to sin. Just like if a husband were unfaithful to his wife, forgiveness would only make sense if he were to discontinue his sinful behavior and be reconciled with his wife, so too our forgiveness only makes since if we can truly be deified. Christ’s incarnate economy provided the healing to our nature that would allow us to stay in communion with God. Your thoughts?
The first thing that I immediately agree with is the the problem of forgiveness “was due to our own captivity to corruption and not some problem that was God’s to dea with.” Particularly when atonement accounts make the problem to rest within God’s justice (such that it must be satisfied, etc.) it becomes problematic, mostly for what it says about the nature of the problem and where the problem rests.
Forgiveness only makes sense if it means we can actually be changed (deified, if you will) and conformed to the image of Christ. Christ’s incarnate economy (well put, by the way) indeed provided healing for us (I would have to think more about the use of nature here) that enabled us to be healed and to remain in communion with God. Yes, indeed.
My hesitancy on the nature language, is because of the language of total depravity or even fallen nature that some use. Nature is a very loaded word – both from Christology and later Maximian Anthropology – so I’ve never quite known what to do with it. Meyendorff’s Christ in Eastern Christian Thought is about as thorough a treatment as I know, but I’d have to memorize him to get it right. So I tend to use language that is a little less loaded.
Sorry about being sloppy with the language. I agree with your assessment. I meant it more in the sense of our nature being liberated, not that nature itself had changed or needed to be. I should have said “condition” or “mode of existence” or some such language (not that these can’t be thorny either!).
Did you see/hear the interview at The Illumined Heart podcast on “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross”? Interviewed was Joel Green, a Wesleyan professor at Asbury in Kentucky. He holds to a position somewhat similar to Orthodoxy.
Your final statement reminds me of an aphorism of Maximus the Confessor’s, which, to paraphrase, is something along the lines of “the mystery of the incarnation is the reason for everything, but is itself beyond reason.”
I think one must include in the mystery of the incarnation, the entirety of Christ’s mission, including the Cross and resurrection. His kenosis, self-emptying, which is evident first in the incarnation itself, is not seen in its fullness until the Cross.
I’m more and more convinced that we view too many things separately (which was a great penchant of Scholasticism) and that it inevitably obscures the meaning of everything, whereas, viewed in the aggregate, everything becomes far more clear.
Very helpful way of understanding the mystery of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. Thanks!
The Cross of Christ has forgotten by many churches today. We’ve trade the cross for a new much easier way. To look at the cross and truly understand that Christ paid once and for all the sins of man with his very own blood and along with it gives you and I unlimited grace, healing, forgiveness ect.
Without the cross of Christ we would have nothing. With the cross as our focal point we have everything we need to live a life full of victory. “For me to live is Christ” but to die is gain”.
At the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem,
That is still wonderful today,
Not everyone can comprehend it.