It is that time of year when, once again, Churches of all denominations ramp up their hospitality. One need not look far to find flier invitations for Easter egg hunts, local ads for sunrise services, or Church billboards declaring that all are invited to join them for Easter service. According to Christian tradition, this is exactly as it should be. Easter is the most important day in the Church calendar – the Feast of all Feasts – and is the greatest declaration of our salvation.
However, when we take this opportunity to tell people about the Christianity, our advertisements often betray bad beliefs which we have adopted alongside the good. I have observed two strong motivational trends which I think betray such bad ideas: (1) the “Jesus wants to give you stuff” message, and (2) the “You should pay Jesus back for all He did” message. The first invites me to come to Jesus because I want stuff for myself, the second invites me to come to Jesus because I feel badly for Him.
The first message is an egoistic self-help offer: “Try Jesus – if money, success, romance, and therapy have not succeeded in making you happy, try getting right with God, it just might work.” C.S. Lewis points out that we ought to believe Christianity, first and foremost because it is true, not for what we will get out of it. When we offer Jesus as a happy pill, we ignore that fact that Jesus did not suffer so we wouldn’t have to, He suffered so that our suffering would no longer be meaningless. Jesus was crucified, not so St. Peter could escape crucifixion, but so that St. Peter could also be resurrected with Jesus in glory.
Furthermore, there is no reward but Christ Himself. There is no salvation apart from Him because salvation is not a commodity or a “get out of jail free” card. Salvation is Christ. He is the Offering.
The second message, on the other hand, introduces a sort of codependent relationship with God. It goes something like this, “Jesus loved you so much, that He emotionally overextended Himself to people who didn’t want Him, to the point that He died for them. The least you could do is accept His gift so His suffering wasn’t meaningless.” It is as if someone worked their whole life to buy you a house – the least you could do is live in it and at least pretend to like it, right? Of course, this is crude and far more explicit than we would ever be, but how many people feel guilt and shame rather than gratitude when they hear of Christ’s passion?
The truth is that we don’t have to take care of God, because God is not codependent. There is a difference between sorrow and shame. Christianity asks us to feel sorrow for our sins, not shame for the extent to which God loves us. Jesus did not die because I sinned, Jesus died because He loves me. The passion of Christ was a sacrifice of love, not of obligation. We must not forget the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus was of one will with the Father, and no one could take His life from Him – He laid it down freely.
God forbid we become confused by Gethsemane into thinking that Jesus did not have a free will. On the contrary, Gethsemane shows us that God loved us enough to become like us in every aspect (sin excepted) by taking to Himself not just a human body but a human will, a will that He united to the Divine will. Let us remember that Jesus is not only the One offered, He is also the Offerer.
This Easter, let us give thanks with all our hearts for the free offering of Christ for our salvation. May we celebrate not for what we can get from Him, but for Who He is; not because we are bad, but because He is good; not because we are obligated, but because we are free.
Blessed Feast! Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.