Before we continue on this blogging journey together, I want to recognize the need to pause along the way and provide some foundations, some definitions if you will. Churchy words abound in spiritual writing. They just sneak in, the little stinkers, with this cavalier attitude, screaming “we all agree on this, right?!?” But it is simply not true. So I want clear the air today about one of those amorphous little buggers…Salvation.
My bet is that each of you just had an image, a definition, an experience, or a phrase jump into your mind. For some the word salvation brings to mind the occasion of your baptism. For others, salvation is a calling, something that must be hard-won for self or others. For yet others the image is one of the street-corner-pacing, placard-wearing grisly man screaming at you as you hustle by on your lunch hour. Each person’s image will be slightly different.
As for me, I am a “word” person. I love to roll around in the etymology of words, what they mean, where they originated, who first used them, what other words derive from them. And I bring this playfulness with words to my spirituality. The Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Speech has power. The words we use have power. God spoke the world into being through God’s Word. God’s Word brought light to a world shadowed in darkness.
This brings us to the word salvation. At its very heart, the root of salvation is salve, the unction, ointment, tincture applied to a wound… and, it follows then that salvation is the healing that occurs from the salve. God heals the wounds of humanity, wounds occurring because we live in a broken and imperfect world, wounds made because of the things we individually have done and left undone, wounds made when we institutionalize systems that perpetuate hate and oppression.
If we see salvation as the process God uses to heal us, to heal our broken lives, to heal our relationships, to heal our society; if we see God’s Word made flesh as the bearer of the salve, as the Salve Incarnate, does that change how we hear the words spoken to us in sacred writings, in sermons and homilies, and by the wild-eyed man on the street corner?
In the readings for the upcoming Sunday, many of us will hear the familiar verses from the third chapter of the Gospel according to John. Even if you are not a practicing Christian, you have probably heard some portion of these verses splashed on posterboard behind a football goal post. For God so loved the world, he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The word “saved” comes from the same Greek root as salvation. They are related words, but when we removed the “l” at some point in our wordsmithing history, we lost that connection. What if we added that “l” back in? We would be a world salved through Christ.
What image of salvation do you have now? If you continue reading in John’s gospel, it might be the image of a man who spits on his fingers and dips them in the dusty soil to create a salve to heal the eyes of a blind man? Or the image of a man who weeps at the death of a friend, vulnerable and pained when the salve was too late to avoid the days of grief for his friends? Or maybe the image of a man who breaks all the rules to give salve to those who are unclean, unholy, and unwanted by society?
I don’t know if I’ve clarified anything in giving you my understanding of salvation, but I hope I’ve given you some new images to add to your own. I pray that you will go forth today in God’s peace, bearers of God’s salve to a wounded world.