Easter is coming! Rescue, healing, wholeness,
death and Resurrection…
But what does salvation mean, how does it work, who is it for, and what has it got to do with Jesus, whoever he is?
Churches around the world read stories of salvation from the Hebrew Scriptures in the lead up to Easter, and connect them to stories of Jesus, especially his murder and the Resurrection.
The specific stories we read are set down in a lectionary, so that most churches around the world are reading the same stories each week. That is a beautiful thing, or it would be, except that most of the stories chosen are horrible.
Inevitably, some kinds of people get saved, and others get left out. Someone is always rescued at the expense of someone else. The stories we read are not so much “love your neighbour” stories, as “be glad you aren’t your neighbour” stories.
There was winners and losers, God’s team and the other team. These stories feature God as a violent, genocidal maniac, rightly troubling anyone who allows themselves to be troubled by what they read in the biblical witnesses.
In 2024, the lectionary focuses on Marks’ gospel, and this book follows those readings, so that you can read the book in parallel to attending worship, and perhaps discuss it in a study group.
I hope that in challenging these “us and them” stories in the Bible, we might also challenge them as they are repeated over and over again in secular versions around the world. The tension between “us and them” isn’t restricted to the religious sphere. There are always relatively well-off people being encouraged by the Powers that Be, to be thankful that we are not our neighbour, and to not rock the boat too much in case we ruin the economy or lose our funding and become our poor neighbour.
As a new Christian in my twenties, these stories horrified me, yet I felt compelled to “believe them,” since they were part of the package. I fervently hoped that there was some mysterious divine explanation for their overt xenophobia and control by fear approach to questioning authority. Usually, I just glossed over the bad bits like everyone else seemed to, because after all the Spirit really did seem to be active amongst the people who believed all this stuff, or at least who said they believed it.
Eventually I came to see that the biblical witnesses are a collection of arguments about the nature of God and humanity, not a monolithic or coherent thesis. We can contrast, for example, the xenophobia of much of the Old Testament with the books of Ruth (where a foreigner becomes the ancestor of David) and Jonah (who sulks when God cares about foreigners and is sternly rebuked).
In passing, I want to acknowledge that of course Judaism contained and contains a multitude of relationships to the scriptures, foreigners, women and so on. I am not setting out to contrast Christianity, or Jesus, with “Judaism” or criticising Judaism. What I am criticising is the uncritical way in which the Church picks up many stories of salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, and repeats them in the lectionary and therefore in worship, even if occasionally censoring out the most horrible bits. We repeat stories of winners and losers, featuring a xenophobic, abusive God, as if they are a part of our story.
So now let us work through Lent in the lectionary, to frankly examine the horrific Old Testament stories, in parallel with the stories of Jesus being read around the churches. Let us see what Jesus, and the Hebrew prophets who inspired him, made of those stories.
Then we will arrive at Maundy Thursday, bad Friday, and finally Easter Sunday, asking not so much what the Resurrection was, but what it means.
Spoiler alert: it means salvation. But how does this salvation work, who is it for, and what has it got to do with Jesus, whoever he is? Does Jesus support, fulfil, or undermine the stories we are hearing in the Hebrew Scriptures?
We will see that Jesus and the gospel writers had different answers to those questions than Paul and some other early Christian writers. And, indeed, to most Christians today.
The chapters are dated according to the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, but you can read them whenever you like!
This book uses the ‘New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’ In all cases where there are italics, they have been added by myself