It might seem strange to think about the credit crunch at this time of the year. Didn’t Jesus die for something more important and more substantial than our spending money or our financial worries?
It is curious how religious language, which begins in metaphor, hardens into a form of “technical” language. People begin to use these “religious” words, forgetting that they were once images, poetry, allusions. For example, as the first Christians tried to find the right words and images to describe what it was that Jesus had done, what they had experienced, what the events of the first Holy Week meant, one image they kept on coming back to was “redemption”. Now when we use the word “redemption”, we only ever use it as a technical religious word, rather like “hallowed”; it is unconnected to anything in our everyday lives. Not so for the first Christians. Then “redemption” was the process by which a slave was given his or her freedom, a freedom bought from the slave-owner: “redemption” was the name for the purchase. When the first Christians said “Jesus redeemed me”, they meant that “Jesus has freed me from slavery”.
This is the idea behind a poem by George Herbert, also called “Redemption”.
Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there, that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.
Herbert pictures his relationship with Jesus like a debtor approaching the big money-lender, wanting to negotiate more favourable terms: just a little longer to repay, a smaller monthly payment. But, in a startling change from everyday life, here the big money-lender not only cancels the debt, but dies for the debtor. Redemption indeed, and very unlike the situation we find in our world and in our lives.
But this is the point. Slavery doesn’t (usually) come with chains and whips in our world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience its malign power. Redemption doesn’t (usually) come with the money-lender cancelling what we owe, and offering to die in our place, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t experience the freedom that redemption brings. This is the promise and the fact of Easter.
Easter means we can be free from slavery, in all its forms. All we need to do is seek out the “rich Lord”. Like Herbert’s tenant we might seek him out in all the wrong places: resorts of the great and the courts of the powerful. But, if like the tenant, we change our search to where the ragged and the thieves are to be found (in other words, those most in need of redemption), then we shall find the rich Lord. We shall find him, and we shall be redeemed.