Magnetic Atonement

Sermon for Sunday, March 25, 2018 || Palm/Passion B || Mark’s Passion

The mystery of just what the crucifixion of Jesus Christ accomplished is too grand for any single metaphor to capture. And that’s what theories of the crucifixion are. Every one is a metaphor, a description of something using the terminology of something else. From the earliest years after the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers sought to make sense of the event, but every explanation fell short of the whole truth. So they kept adding new metaphors to the mix. Taken together, we see a clearer picture of the length and breadth of God’s love and grace displayed in the Passion of Jesus Christ. Yet the entire picture eludes us, and will always do so.

St. Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly.” But that shouldn’t stop us from looking. And so, fully aware that this is one of myriad metaphors for what is happening on the cross, I’d like to you talk about what I call “Magnetic Atonement.” There are plenty of other names for this idea, but the “magnet” is my metaphor of choice today.

At the end of the service we are going to share the long story of the Passion, and I’m going to spend the next few minutes preparing us for what is an exhausting, heartbreaking, and beautiful tale. To focus our participation in the story, I invite you to listen for everything that Jesus draws to himself. I call it “Magnetic Atonement” because Jesus attracts a whole lot of bad stuff to him and brings it all with him to the cross.

We begin with betrayal. “Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’” On this fearful night before his crucifixion, Jesus attracts betrayal to himself; that is, the hurtful breaking of relationships that had been marked with fidelity and trust.

Next we have violence. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?’” Jesus rejected violence as a means of change, but on this night violence found his band of peaceful revolutionaries. He attracted violence to himself and it stuck to him like a magnet.

Next is deceit. “For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.” Jesus had been dealing with lies and misunderstandings his whole ministry, and deceit rears its ugly head once more on the fretful night.

Fourth on our list is fear. “Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’” Peter denies knowing Jesus because Peter is afraid. Jesus attracts that fear and brings it along with him.

I’m going to have to speed up my list because Jesus attracted to himself so much that is wrong with creation. Fifth is jealousy. “For [Pilate] realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over.

Sixth is injustice. “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”

Seventh is indignity. “They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak.”

Eighth is domination. “They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross.”

Ninth is hatred. “Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads.”

And finally, tenth is abandonment. Jesus himself “cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.

Betrayal, violence, deceit, fear, jealousy, injustice, indignity, domination, hatred, abandonment. Each of these negative forces, which darken God’s beautiful creation, swirled around Jesus as he trudged to the cross. He drew them to himself. He attracted them like a magnet. Three nails affixed Jesus to the cross. And ten more nails pinned to the cross all that is wrong with the world. And all that bad stuff, all that muck which infests God’s creation, was crucified along with him. The power such negative forces can have over us died there with him. Their power to infect us and control our destinies was buried with him in the tomb. And when Jesus rose again, he rose in the new life of the resurrection, the life which left all that bad stuff in the tomb.

The first thing you’ll say, of course, is “Adam, but all that bad stuff still exists. The world has so much injustice and fear and violence and all the rest.”

That is true. Sadly, horribly true.

But the world also has us. And Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enables us to live our lives in freedom from those ten negative forces. He attracted their power to himself so that power would die on the cross with him. And he rose again so we could discover new and greater power in the freedom granted by love and mercy and justice and peace. And not just discover that power, but use it, with God’s help, to reshape this broken world.

There are so many metaphors to describe the mystery of Christ’s Passion. What I call “Magnetic Atonement” is one, and I invite you to engage this metaphor today. As you participate in the Passion Gospel at the end of the service, listen for all those negative forces that Jesus attracts to himself. And then let go of the power those negative forces have over you. Because such power is illusion. Whatever power they have, we granted them. For their true power died with Jesus and stayed buried in the tomb.


Photo by David Dibert on Unsplash

One thought on “Magnetic Atonement

  1. Thank you, Adam, for this striking, soul-moving metaphor. May you and your congregation be blessed this Holy Week.

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