‘Whatever happened to sin?’ This question which did the rounds from time to time is not insignificant. By some it was thought that the church could be obsessed by it, yet certainly it has become less and less a focus of preaching. Something less and less part of our consciousness, to the point where in some circles, the Gospel announced as ‘Christ died for our sins, according to Scripture’ (1 Cor 15), indeed the significance of the death of Jesus Christ, except as a sign of God’s participation in human suffering, seemed a rather strange idea, with little or nothing to do with our daily lives.
Yet, apart from the insistence in some quarters that the Gospel and the teaching of the Church must be relevant to our lives, perhaps it is more the case that this seeming irrelevance calls our lives into question. Certainly as today’s gospel points us towards the rejection of Jesus’ by Jerusalem, with its own humanly directed salvation quest – not entirely disimilar to our obsession with political solutions to the human plight – it also directs our attention away from Jesus Christ as God’s response to us, and indeed the way of healing.
To understand better perhaps the centrality of forgiveness in life, we need to consider sin, and its effects.
Straightforwardly put, sin breaks the bonds of affection, or the ties of love by which all things are held together – perhaps this is Physics mysterious ‘weak force’ . . . ? For those of us living in highly technological, depersonalised societies such as here in New Zealand, or more generally Modern societies, the idea that my relationship with those around me is Essential to Life is a strange one. After all if I have money, why do I need people, except if I am of a gregarious, extroverted nature and like a party?
I can obtain the ‘essentials of life’ without attention (love) towards those around me. My life has the sense of something I sustain by my own efforts, in a not dissimilar way to the way in which Jerusalem understood that her Redemption would come by keeping the Law. Such a stance counter intuitively also suggests that Sin and Forgiveness have little to do with the Essence of Life. Where Sin is merely ‘breaking the Law’, as opposed to rupturing the ties that hold all things together in Love, forgiveness of sins is inessential to Life in its fullness.
In our society in which technology ever infiltrates the ‘between’ of human existence, and we move toward the uncontact society towards which we have moved far far further than there is distance left to travel before its completion, we move towards a state of affairs in which in a perverse sense ‘sin will be no more and sorrow and sighing also’, for we shall have no connection with one another, to break. Yet that connection Is Life. In another sense, we shall humanly speaking, be dead.
Imagine it you will instead a community which is as large a community as we might meaningfully live within – say about 150. It is one in which the community works together to grow its food and in which there is of necessity mutual interdependence. If you fall out with your neighbour, or are indeed cut off from the community, this is a matter of life and death. Or indeed if you as a community fail to live in some kind of mutual relationship with the land in which It’s life is understood to be literally vital, then also you will die. Sin as the breaking the bonds of affection. between yourself and your neighbour, or yourself and the land, leads to death.
Forgiveness in such a scenario is also a matter of Life or Death. And this is fundamental whether we recognise it, in a smaller, more personal society as sketched out here, or in a city – say, Jerusalem – which does not recognise it, not least because cities are always out of tune with their surroundings, except in Urban Planners dreams.
God is Love. It is God we seek to kill in our failure to love. In societies which do not understand that they are fundamentally, essentially dependent on love. God is sent outside the walls to die. ‘Life’ so called has no Holy Anima, and increasingly mimics that of those forms of ‘life’ we have ourselves created without love, that is the machines, or graven images of God, that which we imagine we control.
Jesus, the Hen, provides the shelter of His Kingdom of Forgiveness and thus Peace for those who will Live, having at least some sense of what life is, and knowing that nothing counts more than the Love which binds all things together. He provides the overshadowing as the Blood of the Lamb, from Fox, or fire. So that when the storm hits, those who live by his Love, will be those who see it out to the end.