For a few weeks now, I’ve been bitter about some comments that were made by people in the congregation who I trusted, regarding my pastoral identity and the work I’ve done over the first year of serving in ministry with them. Encouraging others to share and opening myself up to learn and grow, I was met with criticism—some constructive and helpful, yet others offensive and hurtful. If that weren’t enough, the dismissive responses by some that I should not take such painful comments so personally added insult and only served to solidify my anger. How could I open myself up to love and listen to these people, and yet they speak so harshly to (and about) me? Unable to confront the offensive and hurtful comments, the anger festered within me. (Because, honestly, pastors are human too—they get hurt and angry.) A few people noticed my bitterness and sought to console me. Perhaps the worst part of all this was the situation happening immediately before I left for vacation—only prolonging the pain. Wanting to be free from the hurt and reconcile the situation, I longed to rid myself of my heavy bitterness. Not wanting to pass the pain onto someone else, I prayed that Christ might take my hurt and anger away.
In his 1535 Lectures on Galatians, Martin Luther describes a “happy exchange” that happens between Christ and sinners. In his commentary on Gal. 3:13, Luther writes:
[Christ] became a curse “for us.” Thus the whole emphasis is on the phrase “for us.” […] For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for them He died on the cross. Therefore it was appropriate for Him to become a thief and, as Isaiah says (53:12), to be “numbered among the thieves.” And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., there has ever been anywhere in the world. He is not acting in His own Person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord (Rom. 2:24). In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body—not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood. […] Whatever sins I, you, and all of us have committed or may commit in the future, they are as much Christ’s own as if He Himself had committed them. (LW 26:277-278)
By this fortunate exchange with us [Christ] took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person. Clothed and dressed in this, we are freed from the curse of the Law, because Christ Himself voluntarily became a curse for us… (LW 26:284)
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, a trade of sorts happens—Christ willingly takes on our full sinfulness, and in exchange we receive his innocence and victory over death. Though our sins make us “worthy of death and eternal damnation,” Christ takes this punishment on himself and we are given new life. Christ becomes who we are (thieves, murderers, adulterers, robbers, desecrators, blasphemers, etc.), so that we may be who God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has created us to be: people of love and service. Think about it: Christ takes on all of your sins, in exchange (trade) for all that he is—sinless, holy, loving, etc. It’s humbling to consider what all Christ freely takes from me (of my sinfulness) onto himself, that I might have (and dare I say: be) all that he is. My anger, being a sin (no matter what the reason is for it), is wrapped up into all that Christ takes on—becoming a bitter, hateful man for my sake. Without even needing to ask or post online in some Facebook group, the Crucified and Risen Christ trades his peace and joy for my bitterness and hurt. Clothed in Christ in baptism, I am free--free from the hurtful things people may say about me, free from the power of anger consuming me, free for forgiveness, free for new life lived in peace and joy. Faith in Christ means trusting this promise and living in it each and every day of our lives.
Gracious God, you know the burdens that weigh on all people. Free me from the bitterness that threatens to overcome and taint my heart. You sent your Son into the world to free us all—taking on our sinfulness as his own, in exchange for his innocence and victory won over sin and death. By the power of your Holy Spirit, make me new—clothed in Christ—so that I may live in the freedom, peace, and joy I receive through Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One. Amen.