March 30, 2017
Dear Lenten Pilgrims,
Last Friday was the 37th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the great Catholic martyr. Romero was one of the most prominent figures for human rights in the 20th century, and spoke on behalf of the poor and the victims of El Salvador’s long, bloody civil war.
His advocacy for the marginalized and oppressed often put him at odds with both the government of El Salvador and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. After speaking out against U.S. military support for the Salvadoran government, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders that harmed human rights, Romero was shot to death while celebrating Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral. It is believed that his assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas.
During that final, fateful Eucharistic service, Romero spoke these hauntingly prescient words: “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and blood to suffer and to pain – like Christ, not for self, but to teach justice and peace to our people.” Romero believed that being a Christian meant much more than pious platitudes and emotional ego-stroking. It beckoned us to model our lives after the example of Christ’s self-giving, self-sacrificial love. He believed that our lives needed to echo Christ’s compassion for the poor, the exploited, and the suffering among us.
Yet, his advocacy never involved violence. In a time when global news headlines are filled with more warfare than peacemaking, Romero’s words are a clarion call for the Kingdom value of non-violence. “We have never preached violence,” he said, “except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”
He concluded his homily: “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” And then, with a single sniper’s bullet to the heart, Romero collapsed to the ground behind the altar, the shadow of the crucified Christ looming behind him. His blood spilt onto the ground, a stirring symbol of a man who followed the example of Christ in every way possible.
THE MORAL EXAMPLE ATONEMENT THEORY
Romero’s life is a vivid portrayal of the fifth atonement theory in our worship series. The moral example theory is among the first explanations offered by the early church for how Jesus saved us, taught by such theological giants as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Abelard. The theory suggests that the work of Christ effects positive moral change in our lives and in the world, as we follow the example of Jesus. This example constitutes the entirety of Jesus’ life: not just his death and resurrection, but also his incarnation, his teachings, and his actions.
As opposed to simply focusing on salvation as “where we go after we die,” the moral influence theory emphasizes the building of the kingdom of God in the present. It is not just concerned with life after death, but also our life here on earth, encouraging us to live into the full reflection of the image of God given to us at our creation. It does not trivialize the death of Jesus at the expense of his life and teachings; instead, it inspires us to an obedience that includes our own crosses to bear.
The spirit of the moral influence atonement theory is beautifully captured in Oscar Romero’s bold proclamation to Pope John Paul II: “It’s easy to preach (Christ’s) teachings theoretically. To follow faithfully the pope’s magisterium in theory is very easy. But when you try to live, try to incarnate, try to make reality in the history of the suffering people like ours those saving teachings, that is when conflicts arise.”
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
CONFIRMATION THIS SUNDAY
This Sunday will also include the confirmation of 25 of our youth, as they make a public profession of their faith in Jesus and choose to follow his example for the rest of their lives. Unlike years past, when we have held the Confirmation service on Sunday nights, it will instead take place during our 11 a.m. traditional worship service, so that our regular worshiping community can join in the celebration. We give thanks to God for these kids as they cross this major milestone moment in their faith journey.
THE PORTICO REVEAL
And finally, this Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. will be the official debut of the new worship space at The Portico called the Community Hall. After two years of praying, dreaming and planning, this new facility creates an open, inviting space for our unique Portico worshiping experience. Come see the Community Hall for yourself, invite an unchurched friend to be part of The Portico worship community, and support the new congregation through your prayers.