Small Beginnings: Reflections about redemption

Maybe it’s because today (when I am writing this) is Easter Sunday. Maybe it’s because I work at a church. Maybe it’s because I love words or a combination of all three of these, but whatever the reason, I have been thinking about the word ‘redemption’ and how it is used and understood in our culture. I confess that I can become distracted by words and their meanings and connotations, so if this train of thought is not of interest to you, I apologize. But if you don’t mind the ride, hop on and take this one for a spin and see where you wind up.

First of all, we use the word redeem in common every day usage in a number of ways. One common use is in the clipping and redemption of coupons. When I was a child, coupons were a big deal. My mother was a devoted coupon clipper and a skilled bargain hunter to boot. She organized her shopping list in such a way as to write the items she needed in the order that the aisles appeared at the store. In a truly impressive twist, she also laid out her coupons in sequence with the items on the list so that she could compare prices among various brands and determine which purchase gave her the most for her money. This method emphasizes the definition of redemption as it applies to coupons. The coupon has potential value that remains unrealized until you trade in the piece of paper which releases the value. It is an exchange of the hope of a benefit for the real value thereof. If you’ve got a coupon in your handbag right now, it has no value until you redeem it.

Another thought I had was about a phrase we often use to describe the character of a person who has undesirable traits yet at the same time, has other traits that we find to be desirable. When we speak of these positive attributes in contrast to the negative ones we might describe them as ‘redeeming qualities’ because they are viewed as balancing or mitigating the less than appreciated characteristics of the individual. In this case, the beneficial features outweigh the detrimental ones, thus redeeming them by contrast.

Redemption of course is a theme that we discuss and reference often in the context of our faith. We are taught that Jesus has redeemed mankind by his death on the cross, which we have just spent a great deal of time and energy remembering during the Easter season. Sometimes I think the truth of this message is difficult to grasp and often seems vague and distant from our everyday lives. I like to actually take the ordinary usages of the word, and use that to help us make the connection between the word and its personal spiritual meaning for the follower of Christ.

Let’s think of the act of Christ’s sacrifice in these terms to help us grasp this image. Remember that the coupon possesses only potential value until it is redeemed or cashed in. The death of Christ on the cross became the payment in full for all of mankind, one individual sinner at a time which is an eternal debt that none of us could have ever paid ourselves. But Jesus accomplished what no one else could do, in his perfection and holiness. He makes the great exchange, redeeming all our sinful humanity, every negative sinful aspect through his divine, perfect substitutionary sacrifice, taking our sin upon himself. Ever since then, whenever a person comes to a moment of understanding how deeply sinful he is and how completely in need of a savior he is, he can access the value of the sacrifice when he redeems that coupon by repenting of his sin and believing that Jesus is the only way to experience forgiveness.

Connecting these words together, for me, brings great clarity to what might otherwise be a lofty sounding theological term that loses its personal application. I hope as we move past Easter and begin to anticipate Pentecost, that you can think about the potential value that rests in the sacrificial act of Jesus and you will consider redeeming that coupon. Experience redemption and receive the most valuable gift you will ever enjoy.