It is good Friday again and this year I am having trouble with commemorating Jesus’ death on a cross over two thousand years ago. My mind jumps from thought to thought. Of course a God of love did not sacrifice his son for the world. And the cross, what a strange symbol in our modern world. We have other ways of carrying out the death penalty today, non of them in public view anymore (unless they get into some sick posts on the internet.) And I am not interested in the gory details of torture.
And what about sacrifice? In Jesus day, sacrifice was still a part of religious life and ritual. Sacrifice to appease God, to offer thanks, to show devotion, to atone for sins. For Christians, that ritual is gone. We no longer practice religious sacrifice of animals or ourselves anymore.
I am old now, having been blessed to live out my days. Jesus died in the prime of his ministry. His was not a natural death but a political death. He was caught up in the greed for power of both the high priests and the roman officials. Jesus got caught up in their web. Actually, he walked into it by defying their authority with his teachings and integrity. He became the “sacrificial lamb.” It wasn’t just the leaders though who did him in. There were those among his own people who wanted a leader more militant and defiant of Rome. Less, well, pious. Still, he may have saved hundreds from death by not leading a full scale rebellion against the Romans. My thoughts ramble on.
He who was called “King of the Jews,” did not live up to the going image of a king, an image that lives on into our time. Nor was he what people wanted in God either. He knew, however, the way to peace and human freedom. He knew love and courage.
When I was younger, I would attend Good Friday services and weep at the suffering of the Jesus who died for me. I miss that young innocent woman I was. My simple faith, my genuine emotional response. I didn’t know then how many other innocent people had died and would die, many living lives of suffering.
I can see more clearly the ways in which Jesus’ suffering and death sends a signal to all those innocents who suffer. Jesus is one of them. He is even there for those who suffer for their sins. Jesus was one of us and calls us to be present to one another. To end suffering. He certainly does not bless it!
Still, Jesus death is central to our Christian faith. But it is a gateway. While I was writing this post, a dear friend from Kenya called to wish us a happy Easter. “May the joy and peace of the risen Christ be with you.”
We can’t forget Jesus’ death or any human suffering. But we remember, to move on, to do everything we can to end what suffering we can. And that leads us to move beyond thoughts about death to the celebration of life and the joy and peace of the risen Christ.
There is no glory in the Cross or crosses of life. There is resilience in overcoming them. And there is resurrection and hope.
Did Jesus have to die for our sins for us to be forgiven? Surely God was a God of forgiveness before Jesus was born. In the cross we somehow see God’s love for us, ultimately giving life and tearing asunder the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies.
The message is not that love requires or thrives on sacrifice. The message is that love desires an end to sacrifice. It is an oxymoron that in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, sacrifice is meant to end. I am not saved by Jesus’ death, I am saved by God’s love, calling to me as a Christian to see in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. And to participate in the freedom of resurrection and triumph over death. God rolls away stones from graves, God lifts us up from the despair of death, God heals, God affirms life.
And we are called to live our lives as fully as we can. We are called to grieve the cross. To carry it when we must, to stand with those who bear crosses, and trust in the call to abundant life. Most of all, we are called upon to see how precious life is, our own and others. And, as much as we love life, not to fear death. Jesus has shown that death can be, is overcome by the One whose power is in Love.
Can we believe, not in the cross, but in the power of life and God’s grace?
Young me was right to feel the pain of the cross, but it was so far away, so much in another time. Old me knows that everyone has some suffering in life and some suffering is caused by evil. Young me did not know that when Jesus said on the cross as he died, “It is finished,” it was just a new beginning, for Jesus and his followers. Old me does.
Just as I was writing this I came across a Passover prayer which I share.
“O God, blessed source of freedom,
let the time come speedily,
when all the oppressed shall find deliverance.
Let the yoke of bondage be dissolved,
and all people serve you in freedom,
May the Passover feast bring us new understanding of the holiness of freedom,
Then we will rejoice before You, with festive gladness, O God.”
Maybe freedom is just another word for resurrection, in this world and the next. We move on from Good Friday to Easter.