Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Missing: the message of the cross during Holy Week?

Word has just come from a rector in a neighboring diocese that a rewritten Good Friday liturgy is being used in many parishes (and approved in several dioceses) for Earth Day, which will fall on Good Friday this year. There is also a move to alter the season just before Advent (late Pentecost) to celebrate creation.

Why is this a terrible idea?

I hasten to say that I am a charter member of the Friends of the Earth. I marched in the very first Earth Day demonstration in Manhattan in 1960. I yield to no one in my passion for the environment. I follow the news about environmental degradation closely, and I am active in a number of conservation groups.

But the earth and all that dwells therein is fallen. That is the missing factor in all this emphasis on the earth and the creation. God's pronouncement that the earth was "very good" came before the Fall. Everything that has gone wrong with creation is part and parcel of the reign of Sin and Death, which came about because of the rebellion of the human race against the Creator. Proclaiming a "theology of creation" without telling the whole story is not theology at all, because it makes the death of Christ superfluous. The emphasis on a creation gospel fails to account for the runaway selfishness and greed that will spoil our precious planet, for sure, without the gracious intervention of God to call us to our senses a hundred times a day.

The only season of the church year that has permitted us to talk about the judgment of God on selfishness and greed is late Pentecost. I suspect that this move to substitute creation for judgment during those weeks in November is precisely intended to remove the theme of judgment from the lectionary.

Where does one go, these days, to hear a full-out sermon on the meaning of the Cross of Christ? The evangelical churches are no more likely to address this central article of our faith than the mainlines. Paul the Apostle wrote that he'd decided "to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2), and yet Paul is the very one who, along with Isaiah 40-55, proclaims a cosmic gospel. The entire created order is presently "in bondage to decay" and is "groaning" as it waits for its redemption (Romans 8:21-22).

"The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Cor. 1:18) Without the word of the cross, there is nothing left of the gospel except self-help. But that is what we human beings have always preferred, isn't it?