Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let's Go Caps

As a long-suffering Washington Caps fan who has watched countless good Caps teams go down in flames early in the playoffs, last night's tough victory over the Rangers was more exuberant relief than anything else. As a fan who still rues the day the NHL realigned the divisions and took the Caps out of the old Patrick Division, beating an old Patrick Division foe was especially gratifying. Caps fans like me who learned to love hockey by watching intense divisional encounters with the Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins have had great trouble replacing these rivalries with the Canes, Thrashers, Bolts, and Panthers in intensity. But come playoff time, seasoned Caps fans are allowed to have the rivalry juices flow again when we tend to meet our more traditional rivals. Last year, it was the hated Flyers. This time, it was the Rangers. But unlike last year, this year we move on.

Next comes the Pens. The Pens are to the Caps what Spurrier's Florida was to Georgia and Tennessee, what Michael Jordan was to Cleveland, and what Babe Ruth was to the Red Sox. Namely, not just a competitor, but a tormentor. In 7 playoff series between the Caps and Pens, the Pens have won 6. Moreover, it's not just that the overall outcome in the series has been lopsided, it's also the manner in which each individual series was lost that continues to bewitch the Caps fan base. In many of the 6 series losses, the Caps outplayed the Pens early in the series, only to have the Pens find their composure, unnerve the Caps, and pull it out in the end. There was no question that the Pens mystique got into the heads of the Caps players, organization and fan base.

But now, a new slate of players from both sides is poised to renew the rivalry. To what extent have they embraced the history of the rivalry? They would probably say it's old news and irrelevant, and maybe it is. But for this Caps fan, heartache isn't easily forgotten, particularly when it's been inflicted by the same tormentor over and over again. On paper, the two teams are about even. But I fear that in reality, the matchup is as lopsided as this rivalry's playoff history. I hope I'm wrong; I desperately hope I'm wrong. But I think the Pens win in 5.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday, 2009

It can be argued quite well that Good Friday is the singlemost revolting day on the Christian calendar, certainly for non-Christians, and even for some within the church. For it is on this day that Christians ponder the awful death of Christ on the cross. Holy days like Easter and Christmas are much more high profile than Good Friday, and certainly arouse their share of opposition. But in the end, Christian observance of the birth and resurrection of Christ tend to be dismissed rather than derided by those who have a problem with Christianity. Good Friday is different.

The redemptive significance of the crucifixion of Christ has been derided as the 'gospel of gore' for some time. More recently, it has been popular to attack the notion that the Father's judgment against sin was satisfied through the substitutionary atonement of Christ as a form of 'divine child abuse'. What kind of Father would allow his Son to be brutalized, and what kind of Father would turn his wrath against sin against his own Son who committed no sin? How can Christians possibly 'celebrate' such a disgraceful thing?

While such objections to the atoning death of Christ are potent and clearly resonate, they distort not only the nature of God, but the nature of Christ as well. In John 10.18, Jesus makes it clear that he is voluntary giving his life for his sheep. He makes clear that nobody takes his life, and nobody has the standing to do so. He is the one who has the authority not only to lay down his life of his own accord, but to take up his life again. Because the Father (Acts 2.32), the Son (Jn 10) and the Spirit (Rom 8.10-11) are all said to be involved in Christ's resurrection (not to mention the creation of the universe and the salvation of the world), we know the three members of the Trinity were unified in the divine purpose of the story of redemption, including the crucifixion.

Jesus is not an unwilling participant; he is not an unwitting victim here. His suffering and death was not necessitated by a bloodthirsty Father who became a follower of Marquis de Sade before de Sade was born. As John 10.11 makes clear, the salvation of sinful humanity was the purpose behind the awful crucifixion. The horror of Christ's death highlights the horror of the sin that required such a remedy. As the wrenching hymn of Johann Heermann says,

Who was the guilty who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

This is what is really so offensive about the crucifixion - our sin put Christ on the cross. When another hymn asks, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?", I am compelled to answer, "Yes I was. My sin put him on the cross."

But why was the crucifixion necessary? Wasn't there some other way to address the sin problem? No. As 1 Peter 3.18 makes clear, Christ died for sins once for all; the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. Without the substitution for sin that Christ became, terms like 'righteous' and 'unrighteous' lose all meaning. Far from being the gospel of gore, the crucifixion is part of the gospel of intercession, where a righteous God intercedes for the unrighteous who are dead in their sins, and dies on their behalf so that they might have life. 'Divine child abuse' would be seeing masses of humans made in God's image who are without hope of redemption, and doing nothing about it. Christ's willing sacrifice to make me a child of God despite my sins that made his sacrifice necessary is the kind of extraordinary and unprecedented love that never ceases to make me weep in both anguish and joy on Good Friday.