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Some Further Thoughts on the Atonement

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  • Christopher Orr
    Some Further Thoughts on the Atonement by Fr. Stephen Freeman
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2007
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      Some Further Thoughts on the

      by Fr. Stephen Freeman


      One of the most peculiar statements relating to the Atonement can be found
      in Revelation 13:8 where Christ is descibed as the "Lamb slain from the
      foundation of the earth." In a similar fashion we read in 1 Peter 1:18-20:

      You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your
      fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the
      precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He
      was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the
      end of the times for your sake.

      It is part of the wonder of the eschatological use of time in the Scriptures
      that they can speak of Christ (the Alpha and the Omega) in terms in which
      He, whose sacrifice is foreshadowed in the sacrifices of Israel, is Himself
      sacrificed, a forshadowing before even the foreshadowing began.

      One of the questions raised by this Biblical statement is fairly obvious:
      which lamb of sacrifice does this verse foreshadow? Of course no simple
      answer can be given, no one-to-one ratio in this heavenly typology. He is
      the *Lamb*, while all other sacrifices are only *lambs*. The same
      distinction can be made concerning all other sacrifices within the
      sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Christ is not only that which those
      sacrifices looked towards, but is also that P*rototype* of which they
      themselves can only be shadows.

      Here the system of sacrifice within the Old Testament becomes of less
      importance for me. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth, if a
      declaration of God's primordial purpose. He had always known that our
      creation would also be followed with our treachery and our turning away from
      Him. As well, He had always known that He would come for our salvation and
      that our rescue from the power of death would involve His own entrance into
      death, the sacrifice of the Lamb.

      This revelation - that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the earth -
      is also a revelation of Who God Is. The God Who Created Us is also the God
      Who is Slain for Us. Just as He is the God who enters into death in order to
      rescue His creatures, so is He the God Who creates out of nothing. Life from
      death is not simply a rescue operation - but an act of making those things
      are not to be as though they were.

      This same wondrous pattern in found through virtually every action of God
      throughout the Scriptures. This weekend we marked the feast of the
      Conception of St. John the Forerunner, whose mother, Elizabeth, had been
      barren. She is part of a long list of barren women from whose offspring God
      brought salvation to the people around them. The whole of salvation history
      is an impossible account of God bringing from nothing, or as good as
      nothing, things that are wondrous and working of salvation. This is another
      way of saying that the great miracle of Pascha is the pattern revealed in
      all the actions of God on behalf of His world - from its creation from
      nothing - to its resurrection from the dead.

      This, to me, is the great act of atonement. The concentration on deeds done
      amiss and debts owed for sin are almost a distraction from this greater
      existential crisis of all creation. Not only do we do things amiss - we are
      collapsing into the nothingness from which we came. Our deeds only reflect
      this drive towards nothingness. Every murder is only a fiendish attempt to
      make something into nothing - to make death reign over others.

      The great atonement is the rescue of our very selves and our world from its
      mad course towards non-being. St. Athanasius in his wonderful *De
      Incarnatione* uses this very imagery to describe our reconciliation with
      God. For me it has always had the advantage of its obvious universality. I
      can read from Scriptures and tell someone that "all have sinned and come
      short of the glory of God." For some, such a statement has an impact. For
      others, less so.

      But for all, the statement that we are *all* moving towards death, and are
      even threatened with nothingness has an undeniable quality. If there is to
      be an eternal life, it will only be an atoned life. Only the life that God
      rescues and gives back to us again can be called *eternal* life. The
      gracious God has rescued and given life to all. The immediate question for
      us is whether we will live this atoned life in a manner that is in
      *union*with God or whether we will choose to make of this re-gifted
      existence an
      eternal alienation from the very source of its being.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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