Are We in Love with Sin?

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod
Rosie Haarper

We all carry our early experiences of Christmas and Easter into our adult life. It’s inevitable and it is the lens through which we interpret the present. For instance, I know I have an over- sentimentalised blue print for Christmas. My Mum was Swiss but living in England, and recreating some of the Swiss traditions was a way of keeping her Swiss identity alive. So we had wonderful homemade Swiss cookies, a tree with real candles we were only allowed to see on Christmas Eve, and handmade presents that my Mother would be sewing in secret all through the autumn. Christmas as a result feels like a warm safe place for me.

Easter however was very different. It was totally dominated by Good Friday. As a church we had a massive get together at around 5.00pm and most of the day was spent making sandwiches. I would help out the ladies (oh yes, all ladies of course!), who seemed impossibly old. They worked very hard at being nice but I could tell they didn’t really like children very much.

My feelings however, were totally dominated by a sense of dread. I knew the Good Friday service was coming and I was terrified.

Year after year after year the story of the crucifixion was told in the most graphic way imaginable. The whole process was unpacked. The torn flesh, the crushing sense of suffocation, the competing pain around the body. No detail was left untold. That was just the beginning. Then there was the sin. The weight of all the sin of the world was also suffered. A weight so vast that only God could bear it, a weight that went beyond that supreme agony when God himself abandoned his son. Then of course there was still hell to be tackled.

All that would have been bad enough, but the real twist came when the ball of responsibility was thrown to every single person in the church. If you were the only person left on earth Jesus would still have had to suffer all this to deal with your sin. It was your sin that took him to the cross.

I remember very clearly hearing Matthew Parris at a debate saying with considerable feeling that he was not willing to accept that he was personally responsible for crucifying Jesus – and thinking that he had a point.

So I grew up, like so many of us I guess, feeling, if not actually thinking, that sin was the main point about Christianity. It was compounded by my experience in two very well know London churches where you were expected to invite your friends to come and hear the gospel (aka “Good News”).  What happened was that perfectly happy and well adjusted people would be told that they were wicked and sinful, but they were not to worry because Jesus had dealt with all that on the cross and if they gave their life to him they’d be alright after all.

It was all about the sin. And all too often it still is. We seem to need to assess someone’s sin status before we can know how to relate to them. Whole parts of the Church break away because they are more concerned about the perceived sin of the other than about their humanity. Classically at the moment the focus is on loving gay relationships. It seems impossible to talk about the love and the flourishing and the relationship, because of the love of fixating on sin.

So I opened my bible to preach on the Sunday after Easter. Surely if it was all about the sin then the risen Jesus is going to explain.  “It’s all right folks! All that agony that I went through means that your sins are dealt with. You are forgiven. The problem is solved.”

Let’s skip over the fact that Jesus was capable of saying ‘Your sin is forgiven’ before his death which might imply that one is not necessarily a consequence of the other. The main point is that he simply didn’t go down that route.

Just imagine that, as a consequence of some extraordinary sacrifice something very, very wonderful could happen. What would you wish for? If there were a cosmic Solomon moment what would change the whole world?

          ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ ‘

For me this year more than ever before the cross speaks of breaking the cycle of violence, and the resurrection offers us peace and hope.

If there is any point at all in being Church we need to embody this by the way we treat one another. It’s costly. We’ve got into the habit of seeing each other’s sin and the recent IICSA hearings in a way underline this: Where are the shortcomings? Who failed? Who did wrong? The purpose surely must be to bring about peace not primarily to judge.

There are many survivors whose dearest wish is for peace. It may be incredibly costly for some senior staff to look at how they have reacted, to apologise deeply and offer to rebuild relationships and make reparation. Peacemaking is hard. Until this happens the gospel will end up being “Bad News”, and all about sin.

The true gospel of Easter is genuinely, tangibly good news and leads to peace.

 

 

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This entry was posted in Human Sexuality, IICSA, Rosie Harper, Sexual abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Are We in Love with Sin?

  1. Ian says:

    Rosie, how do you understand Paul’s exposition of peace (in Eph 2 and elsewhere) that our loss of peace is a result of enmity with God…which has arisen because of our sin? So that in order for peace to come, sin must be dealt with…and the cross brings peace because it is the cross that has dealt with our sin?

    There is a very similar idea in the OT, whereby rest only comes when sin is atoned for. Any thoughts?

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  2. Sarah Bingham says:

    Isn’t the implication of the encounters Jesus has in the early part of Matthew 9 that in fact sin ‘is’ the problem? If not, what is the meaning of verse 12? The gospel is only good news if you are aware of the bad news first, isn’t it?

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  3. Peter Ould says:

    Rosie, when you preside at the BCP Eucharist and say the words “who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”, what do you believe is meant by them?

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  4. James Oakley says:

    Rosie, I’m genuinely confused by this. There are various debates surrounding the atonement, as to precisely how God deals / dealt with our sin. All have the cross at the heart of them. You don’t enter into that debate here, so I won’t either.

    But you describe two London churches where people are told that the way into God’s family is to realise that we’re not as “OK” as we think, but that we are in fact sinners and need God’s forgiveness. What’s the alternative to that approach into the kingdom? Logically, the only alternative is for people to be acceptable to God as they are, without any need to have their sin dealt with. The question is then not which doctrine of the atonement we’ll articulate, but whether we need one at all.

    Here’s my confusion: the whole biblical narrative runs from Genesis 1-2, through Genesis 3, through Genesis 4 to Rev 20, and ends at Revelation 21-22. Again, without wishing to enter into debates about literary genre, the meta-narrative is that we were made perfect, sinned and fell, and that God acts through events in time and space to restore us to himself and to one another, with the end goal that he glorifies himself by restoring what we lost (and indeed transcending it by fulfilling it).

    I’m struggling to see how this blog post doesn’t flatten all of that, and attempt to jump straight from Genesis 1-2 to Revelation 21, leaving out “the lamb who was slain”.

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  5. Ian says:

    There was an interesting comment about pastoral reality here yesterday, but it has now disappeared. Is there a reason for that?

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    • davidould says:

      ditto my comment which notes that immediately after John records Jesus saying “peace be with you” he then goes on to speak about the necessity of forgiveness of sins.

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  6. James Oakley says:

    Having just taken a midweek Communion, I was struck by how even the Easter-seasonal provisions for introductions to the peace, introduction to confession, proper preface and so on all tie in Jesus as the paschal lamb who suffered to take away the sin of the world. It’s not just the 1662 liturgies that do this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. davidould says:

    I’m confused, Rosie. You quote Jesus:

    John 20:19    On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

    but then with the next breath he makes it all about sin and the need for forgiveness.

    John 20:21    Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

    It’s almost as if he equates the peace that he brings to the disciples with the forgiveness they will bring to others.

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  8. Bob Marsden says:

    Rosie, others are already on the case. Your post is extraordinary and very worrying. If you have the time and inclination how do you explain the RISEN JESUS in Luke 24 v 46 saying to his disciples “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ronnie Smith says:

    Dear Ian, I want to ask a question regarding your statement above:

    “So that in order for peace to come, sin must be dealt with…and the cross brings peace because it is the cross that has dealt with our sin?”

    My question is: Has sin already been dealt with by the death and resurrection of Jesus, or does Jesus still have to suffer for our sins of today?

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    • James Oakley says:

      I’m sure Ian won’t mind me jumping in here, although he may well have something useful to add.

      The answer to that comes in Hebrews 9:25-28. Note the repeated use of the word “once”, translating the Greek ἁπαξ – once for all time. The author of Hebrews explicitly contrasts that both with the OT experience of repeated sacrifices, and also with the idea of any kind of ongoing repeated sacrifices being needed subsequently.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Chris Green says:

    I think even the close context questions your direction, Rosie: ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.(ie, Jesus links peace with his death and resurrection – but it continues) The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ I.e, Jesus links forgiveness with his death and resurrection, and in effect does say ‘“It’s all right folks! All that agony that I went through means that your sins are dealt with. You are forgiven. The problem is solved.” Yes,there are other elements to be brought in (joy, Holy Spirit, role of apostles to be sorted out etc.etc.), but it would be very odd to say that Jesus here doesn’t link his death and resurrection with forgiveness of sins as a primary element.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Antony Kevan Royle says:

    The Cross at the centre of History, the singularity at which all temporal points coincide with eternity, the redempticve act that stretches back to the fall and forward to the final consummation. Open your heart to the wonder of what God has accomplished!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. andiibowsher says:

    It seems concerning to me that the main point of Rosie’s article is being evaded by most of the commentary responses. “If there is any point at all in being Church we need to embody this by the way we treat one another. It’s costly. We’ve got into the habit of seeing each other’s sin …The purpose surely must be to bring about peace not primarily to judge.” and “For me this year more than ever before the cross speaks of breaking the cycle of violence, and the resurrection offers us peace and hope.”
    There is more than one model of atonement and there are many images in scripture of what God achieved in Christ. Dealing with sin is one set of things but there’s more. Let’s recall that Eastern Christians, typically, find it pretty hard to see in scripture the kind of approach to atonement we westerners have been normally socialised into seeing. And the gospel of sin management is defective; it often requires us to practice guilt arousal preaching just to get people to square one for our four-point proclamations. That’s not to say that sin isn’t a thing, theologically or even missiologically, just to say that perhaps if we fixate on it fairly exclusively, it may not help proclamation or pastoral care in many cases. I think Rosie’s point about the relative blindness to resurrection in many of our schemas is definitely something to worry about when resurrection seems to be at the core of much apostolic proclamation. I think our paucity of it may indicate a failure to model atonement sufficiently well.
    I’m sorry guys, (and interesting to note that it is male guys almost exclusively) but piling in to defend what appears to be a particular kind of theology without apparently hearing the genuine problems with the way that can come over and be enacted when that latter is the main point (I think) looks a bit, well, crass.

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    • Ian says:

      Andii, on the minor point of men commenting, that is (as I suspect you’re aware) a reflection of internet comment generally.

      On the substantive point, I don’t think I see any pushing of a particular model of atonement here—satisfaction, justification, reconciliation, substitution or their variants (see the helpful article by Ben Pugh in last week’s Church Times). But what people are asking is about the basic configuration of Rosie’s argument—that we should focus on the ‘solution’ of peace and can do that without attending to, or perhaps even mentioning, the ‘problem’. Why is this peace so costly that is led to the cross?

      This seem extraordinary not only in the light of the data of the NT (which people have mostly appealed to) but doubly extraordinary in the current context of child sexual abuse. Is there any moment in the Church’s life when we need more to face up to our sinfulness than this?

      At least folk here have engaged. Some I have spoken to have commented: ‘What is the point, when Rosie’s piece has so little in common with any reasonable understanding of Christian faith?’ That is how far out this argument looks to many. I hope that you can see how very far it is from any authorised Anglican liturgical understanding.

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  13. Alex Eaden says:

    Extraordinary and yet not unexpected. All. well most of the above comments are about theology and not people. God created people not theology. I sin, I seek forgiveness I sin again etc. I see sin I forgive, I see more sin etc. God copes. It seems people do not, or at least important Christians don’t. Most people in most churches, of whatever faith, reach out with love. They all sin. God copes. Love trumps sin. God says this. (And that is all the theology I need).

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