Atonement: Offering For Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 52:13-53:12

My fabulous Hebrew Bible professor in seminary, Dr. David Petersen, taught me great love for a great many things.  Among them are mutton-chop sideburns, fly fishing, liver divination, and last but certainly not least, reception history.

(He also taught me a great love for Hebrew Bible…don’t worry!)

Reception history is evidence of how a biblical text has been received over time and how it has been recreated or remembered throughout history.  Reception history spans the world of the arts – literature, music, sculpture, theatre, poetry, painting, film, and more.

I believe a biblical text can be helped as well as harmed by reception history.  Helped because it draws people back towards the biblical narrative and engenders feelings of curiosity and exploration.  Harmed because sometimes folks do not make it back to the biblical text and take what they read or view at face value as what the biblical text says…which is why I stay away from most of what debuts on a certain television station that thinks it explores “history” but there is a whole lot more of “opinion” and “creative storytelling” than actual “fact.”  But I digress…

In 1741 George Frideric Handel composed his masterwork oratorio,  Messiah.  The oratorio is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah – and an excellent example of a text’s reception history – singing through birth prophecies, his nativity, his passion, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his exaltation.  I had the privilege to sing selections from this masterwork while in concert chorale during undergraduate.  The enormity of the piece – both its length and its meaning – remain on my heart to this day.

Four musical reflections in Messiah come from our Scripture passage for this week, which through the lens of the prophet Isaiah, gazes upon the humble yet extremely powerful offering of the suffering servant.  I have included the links to watch and listen to this scripture sung by mass choir.  May it be for all of us a meditative practice as we draw near to our study of Scripture this week.

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs – Isaiah 53:4-5

And With His Stripes We Are Healed – Isaiah 53:5

All We Like Sheep – Isaiah 53:6

He Was Cut Off Out Of The Land Of The Living – Isaiah 53:8

Prayer: “Man of Sorrows! what a name for the Son of God, who came ruined sinners to reclaim.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Guilty, vile, and helpless we; spotless Lamb of God was he; full atonement can it be?  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Lifted up was he to die; “It is finished” was his cry; now in heaven exalted high.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring, then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah!  What a Savior!”* Amen.

*”Hallelujah!  What a Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 165.

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