How a Near Death Experience Changed Easter for this Biblical Scholar
I’ve spent my life studying Christianity but never gave much thought to what Christ’s sacrifice meant to me—until my life was saved by an unmatchable act of generosity.
Easter, as everyone knows, is a time that Christians reflect upon the death and resurrection of Jesus and its significance for everyone else. The empty tomb is the foundational event in which Christianity laid its foundations. But just as important, maybe more important than the historicity of this event, is what does Easter ask of you? Can you ever repay Jesus for dying on the cross? Do you have to?
Over the course of the last two thousand years important theologians like St. Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Aulén, Moltmann, and others used different imagery and models to explain how the Atonement works. Does Jesus’ death pay a debt that is owed to God? Does he rescue us from the snares of Satan by triumphing over death? Does he model perfect self-sacrificial love? Does he suffer in solidarity with broken humanity? This isn’t a theology class, and what I have to offer isn’t intellectual or catechetical; it’s my own visceral gut response.
For most of my life I didn’t really worry about these questions that much. When, at the age of seven, I took catechism classes, I told the nun that I didn’t think the crucifixion was that big of a deal because “it was just one day.” When she told me that Jesus suffered and died for my sins I told her that it wasn’t just my sins, it was everybody’s sins. Stop making it my fault, I thought; I’ll be obedient because common sense dictates that you shouldn’t irritate an omnipotent deity.