As Easter approaches, many churches and individuals are revisiting the Gospel accounts of the suffering and death that preceded Jesus’ glorious resurrection. Is the torture Jesus experienced just part of the story, a historical event along the route to Easter? Does Jesus’ suffering mean something for us today?
Margaret Manning writes at Slice of Infinity about what the atonement means for us today, finding a parallel with the efforts of some Native Americans to make sense of the suffering their ancestors experienced:
A chance meeting at a church gathering introduced me to a ministry in my local area that works with urban-dwelling Native Americans. Most are homeless and many struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Like me, these individuals are far removed from the Trail of Tears. But like me, this organization wonders what meaning to assign to a tragic past. Clearly, we carry the events of our past into our present lives. In some cases, painful hurts and histories have ongoing repercussions. Cycles of violence, addiction, and despair are shaped, in part, by the meaning assigned to these past events. Therefore, this ministry seeks to reassign new meaning to difficult pasts through reconciliation and forgiveness.
In the same way, as we look at the atonement of Jesus, we can either view it as an event that happened in the past that primarily impacted our individual, vertical relationship with God, or we can see that the justice of God on our behalf enjoins us to do justice on behalf of others. We can live the atonement as a way to give meaning to the past that is redemptive for the present. Recognizing both our need for forgiveness and the need to offer forgiveness, we give meaning to those who need atonement today. Not simply an act of injustice perpetrated against Jesus, the atonement brings life, as surely as it binds us to give life to others.