Next to Brian McLaren, Adam Hamilton is by far my favorite author writing to Christians today. His works constantly enlighten, challenge, and enrich my faith. This book, though it is one of his older works (2009) was really no exception.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe these events actually happened or not, it’s pretty much undeniable that the events that took place in the roughly 24 hour period between Christ’s last meal with his disciples and his death the following day did indeed change the world. Belief in these events would spring a new faith into being that would be a driving force in shaping human history over the next 2000 years, and it’s still happening today.
For Christians, these events not only are the founding moments of our faith, but we believe that they not only influenced written history, but they give each and every one of us a chance to change our destiny, both in this life and the next. We believe that through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we have been reconciled to God in a new covenant that allows us to be in communion with him. Hamilton explores these events, and the theology of how exactly this works, in great detail throughout the book.
Starting with the Last Supper, Hamilton takes the events of the final day of Jesus’ life and works through them one by one, culminating with his death on Good Friday. After that he adds another chapter on Easter. Two themes run through all of these chapters. First, Hamilton invites his readers to place themselves in the story, in the the roles of the various characters. Maybe you’ve participated in a Passion reading at your church or a procession of the Stations of the Cross and you’ve pictured yourself as a member of the crowd condemning Jesus or watching him carry his cross. Have you ever put yourself in the shoes of Judas, Barabbas, the Roman soldiers who flogged Jesus, or even Pilate himself?
Trust me, to do so is a, shall we say, enlightening experience and I believe that it can be a very powerful experience if you let it. I’ve finished the book, watched his DVD, and I’m going through his devotional guide, so I’ll be posting some reflections along these lines in a new series here on the blog throughout the rest of Lent.
The other theme Hamilton delves into is the question of how exactly the Atonement works. The first theory suggests that while Jesus was hanging on the cross the Father placed the weight and guilt of all the sin of the world on the Son. Then, because the Father is purely Holy, he had to look away from Jesus because he could not stand to see the sin, which is paid for by the death of Christ. The second suggests that Jesus substitutes his death and punishment for our own. The third theory, often called the “moral influence theory” states that the story of what we as a sinful people did to Jesus, the innocent man, is meant to be so shocking, so horrible, that we decide to change the way we live and follow his path. The final theory, “Christ the Victor” or Christus Victor in Latin, states that we must not only focus on the suffering and death of Jesus in the Atonement, but we must include the Resurrection and take all three as whole and view it as Christ ultimately conquering sin, death, and evil: once and for all. I must admit that while I see different merits in each argument, I prefer “Christ the Victor” because it offers the most HOPE.
Yes, hope. I think that is one of the most important things we can grasp as Christians. I’ve had the honor of being liturgist at our church on Easter Sunday before, and I get to do it again this year, and there’s something special about being able to stand on a spring day among the Easter Lilies and proclaim the Good News, and Blessed Hope of the Resurrection of the King. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
If you’re looking for a book to supplement your Lenten journey, or if you just have a general interest in the theology around the Atonement, I’d encourage you to read this book. I think there’s something here for Christians of all stripes and I look forward to reading it again in the future.