As I'm writing this it is Holy Week, the time when Christians commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The events of Holy Week have been celebrated as "good news" for centuries, and for good reason: They represent a great reversal, the overcoming of evil, sin, and death by goodness, holiness, and eternal life. Yet A Course in Miracles presents a very different version of that reversal than traditional Christianity, and I find myself reflecting on just how different (and more profound, in my view) the Course's version is.
Though Christianity actually has multiple theories about the theological significance of Holy Week, we're all familiar with the account popularized by evangelicals. Before Jesus came, the entire world was held captive by evil and sin; we were all condemned by God to death for Adam's transgression in the Garden. But God gave us a way out, a way that evangelical tracts typically describe as "God's great plan for salvation." He sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to die on the cross for our sins. The innocent Lamb of God took our deserved punishment on himself, thereby absolving us. This salvific death was the Atonement, the act that reconciled us with God. Then, on Easter Sunday, Jesus was resurrected from the tomb, proving that he was indeed the only begotten Son of God. The resurrection was God's "yes" to Jesus, the confirmation that Jesus was the Savior of the world.
In this view, the events of Holy Week, especially the crucifixion, brought about a great reversal. Before, salvation had been unavailable; the world was shrouded in the darkness of sin and there was no escape. But now, through Jesus' work on the cross, the way to salvation was open: All people who believe that Jesus died on the cross for them, repent of their sins, and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior will no longer be condemned to hell for their sins, but will instead have eternal life in Heaven. In the words of John 3:16, the evangelicals' one-sentence summary of God's plan for salvation, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (NRSV).
This account has never made sense to me. Whenever I hear it called "God's great plan for salvation," I think: Couldn't an all-knowing, all-powerful God come up with a better plan than that? If He wanted to save us, why couldn't He just say, "You're all forgiven"? Why did He have to send His own Son to die a horrible death? The typical answer is that His justice demanded it; someone had to be punished for our crime. But this answer just raises another question: How could His justice be served by punishing the one person who is innocent? Isn't punishing the innocent unjust? No one has given me a convincing answer to this question. Then there's the issue of how we acquire salvation. Why should salvation depend not on being a good person or reaching a high level of spiritual wisdom, but instead on simply believing that this bizarre blood sacrifice of an innocent God-man happened two thousand years ago? The whole thing has always seemed ludicrous to me.
Thank God A Course in Miracles came into my life, for it gave me a much more inspiring and sensible account of Holy Week. This account is rooted in the Course's sublime view of God and His creation: a God of pure Love Who created all of us as extensions of Himself, purely loving Sons of God who are wholly incapable of sin. This view leads to a very different way of seeing Holy Week. As a result of our decision to reject God as our Creator, the entire world was held captive by the false belief in evil, sin, and death. But God gave us a way out the instant we seemed to separate from Him, a truly great plan for salvation: the plan of Atonement through forgiveness, which would punish no one but instead simply enable us to recognize that "the separation never occurred" (T-6.II.10:7).
This plan unfolded gradually through time, but took a huge leap forward in the life of Jesus, a human being just like the rest of us, but one who realized his true Identity as a Son of God to an unprecedented degree. He devoted his life to teaching the truth that God is pure Love, and we are His beloved children on whom He lavishes the indiscriminate generosity and care of a perfect Father. Then, during the final week that came to be known as Holy Week, Jesus demonstrated the truth of his teachings in the most extreme and powerful way. (This is quite different from the evangelical account, where the events of Holy Week have no real connection to Jesus' radical teachings.)
In the crucifixion, Jesus gave us an extreme demonstration that precisely because evil, sin, and death are illusions, we can love and forgive those who seem to harm us, because no real harm has been done. He taught us that if he could remember the unchanging Love of God and our true nature even while he was being crucified, surely we can demonstrate the same glorious truth when facing the little "crucifixions" of our lives: "Teach only love, for that is what you are" (T-6.I.13:2). Then, in the resurrection—the full awakening of his mind to the Son of God he really was, an Identity we all share—he gave us "a final demonstration that it is impossible to kill God's Son; nor can his life in any way be changed by sin and evil, malice, fear or death" (C-5.3:5). The resurrection was his final teaching, "the final demonstration that all the other lessons I taught are true" (T-3.I.7:9). This, not the crucifixion, was the Atonement, the recognition that we are already reconciled with God because there was never a real rift with Him in the first place.
In the Course's view, the events of Holy Week brought about a great reversal as well. In the Course's version, of course, the world was never really shrouded in sin, and salvation has always been available. Yet Jesus' resurrection did make salvation more accessible than it had been before, in a number of ways. While the Atonement had always been available, Jesus "set it in motion" (C-6.2:4). Because he was the first to complete His part in the plan of the Atonement, he is now the leader in charge of carrying out that plan (see C-6.2:2). His full awakening made it easier for us to hear the Holy Spirit's Voice (see C-6.1:3). And since our minds are all joined, his resurrection brought about everyone's resurrection, even if we aren't aware of it yet: "You arose with him when he began to save the world" (C-6.5:5). Thus, though the Course's account of Holy Week is quite different than that of traditional Christianity, they do share one conviction in common: an event of enormous significance took place in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, an event that changed everything, an event that literally saved the world.
But in the Course's version, we don't partake in the great reversal accomplished during Holy Week by simply believing that these events took place and declaring our allegiance to Jesus. Instead, we accept the reversal his resurrection brought about by actively joining in his resurrection. Of course, we were already joined with him when it happened, but our function now is to join his resurrection in a conscious way. How do we do this? Above all, by loving and forgiving our brothers in the same way he so dramatically demonstrated during that last week of his life. Indeed, he tells us that in every encounter with our brothers, we have the choice of either joining the crucifixion by condemning them for their "sins" or joining the resurrection by forgiving them: "Would you join in the resurrection or the crucifixion? Would you condemn your brothers or free them?" (T-11.VI.2:1-2).
The choice to forgive really does reverse everything. We certainly seem to held captive by evil, sin, and death, do we not? We seem bound to a world of suffering and darkness from which there is no escape. "Yet will one lily of forgiveness change the darkness into light; the altar to illusions to the shrine of Life Itself" (W-pII.12.5:1). Who among us hasn't seen a seemingly hopeless situation totally transformed by a single decision to love and forgive? Who hasn't experienced or at least heard about a situation "where an ancient hatred has become a present love" (T-26.IX.6:1)?
This is the promise of Holy Week: No matter how much we may feel crucified by this insane world, our destiny is resurrection. The illusion of death may appear to have us in its grip, but the reality of eternal life has the last word. Why not experience that eternal life right here and right now by making the simple choice to forgive—yes, that person you just thought of? Why not join Jesus' resurrection and bring about the great reversal right now? Happy Easter!