Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter --- and sinners in the hands of an angry god

One of my great-uncles, older by some 40 years than my maternal grandmother, was named Jonathan Edwards Brown. Uncle Jonathan died in 1897 at the age of 59, so I don't remember him. And family historians rarely get the name quite right, dropping the "s" from Edwards, thereby obscuring the fact Great-Grandfather Joseph, a fierce old Presbyterian, named his second son after a favorite preacher, Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards (left), generally considered to be America's first great philosophical theologian and a man of soaring intellect, was among fathers of the Great Awakenings, firestorms of evangelical enthusiasm that swept New England, then other colonies and the frontier, commencing in the 1730s; his best-known sermon, a literary (and theological) classic, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." 

Those great awakenings are in part at least responsible for the muddles 21st American Christians find themselves in --- the opening evangelical shots were fired in the name of an angry God, and the anger has survived.

I grew up, as did many in my generation, hearing much about that angry god (although not at home) --- mired in Old Testament vindictiveness that obscured New Testament grace --- a major reason why I don't believe in this incarnation of the divine, infinite and inexpressible.


This is not something to spend a great deal of time thinking about. Life is far to short to get deeply involved in idle speculation about an after-life and nonsensical attempts to fence the infinite into some construct involving the "saved" and those who aren't.

But spring is a season of the year when I do think about it more --- it's hard not to. Stations of the Cross have been a weekly Lenten devotion, concluding with a simple supper of soup and bread last evening. Palm Sunday is upcoming. And then the rest of the Holy Week marathon, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, each with its liturgical framework.

This year I began at the base line with a  story attributed to my old friends, the Unitarian Universalists, which like all good stories is almost impossible to track to its origin. The story involves preachers, pastors and priests from all the major Christian expressions sitting around talking about what Easter means to them. Finally, the UU preacher chimes in:

“I believe the real meaning of Easter is the appreciation of life’s renewing cycles and, that for all things there is a season. I believe the real meaning of Easter is the acknowledgment, with its accompanying sadness, of a very human Jesus who was forced to die on the Cross because of his liberal religious views and beliefs. But most important of all, I believe the real meaning of Easter is the Celebration of Thanksgiving for the presence of the sacred in each and every living person and thing; for the presence of the sacred in the birds that sing; for the presence of the sacred in the flowers which sway and the grasses which rustle in the gentle breezes of spring. This is what I believe is the real meaning of Easter,” said the Unitarian Universalist."

Great story, and perhaps this is all there is; or perhaps there's more. But, really, it's enough.

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