God entered the world in Jesus to show us both the cost and the reward to living a life in complete relationship with God, according to God’s rules, as opposed to the world’s rules. Jesus’ entire life was dedicated to the kingdom of God, his words, his actions and even his death. Jesus had the same choice that both you and I have and he chose to dedicate his life to God, he chose to hang on that cross; he chose to have nails shoved through his hands and feet. If faced with the same choice, what would you do? How strong is your faith and trust in God?
I think that in order to really understand Jesus’s death we need to first understand the broader picture of God’s relationship to creation. Rowan Williams, retired Archbishop of Canterbury and theologian, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, says that “creation isn’t a theory about how things started; it’s a way of seeing everything in relation to God. Whatever we encounter is there because God chose that it should be there.” what this means is that how we see ourselves in relationship to creation is emblematic of how we relate to God. According to the Book of Genesis we were created in the image of God and because we are human and have the ability of free thought we assume that means that we look like God, but what is if means something different? Verna Dozier a noted Episcopal theologian, agrees with Williams and Aquinas, she says the creation story is not about how creation came into being, instead it is about why God created. She says that “it is the very nature of Love to pour itself out in creativity, creative forms, creative relationships.” With this definition of creation we see that God created the universe, not because God could, not because God was seeking companionship, but because God was so filled with Love that God made the choice to create something that could also experience that Love and a part of that creation is you and me, who were created in God’s image, meaning with the capability of choosing to love in the same way that God loves.
The original sin, as it is called, was the conscious choice of humanity to reject the love of God and to fall into the trap of believing that God would ever reject us. The evil and suffering in the world comes from our decision to reject God’s Love, not God. God always chooses Love, no exceptions. God does not send disasters to test us, God does not send illness to test us, God did not and does not create evil. God created and continues to create out of pure love and the only reason something created out of pure love would ever turn to evil is because it chose to. So what does this mean? It means that even though we were created with the ability to make choices and the ability to Love, we have continually chosen not to love. We have continually chosen to not love God, to not love creation, to not love one another, and all too often to not love ourselves. The Hebrew scriptures tell us of the many instances God attempted to engage humanity and convince them to return to their original purpose, to be creatures of love, but time and time again they rejected God’s call, which is why God came in the person of Jesus to show humanity that it is possible to choose Love.
I am not going to go into detail about Jesus life and ministry because that is not what today is about, but suffice it to say that through the entirety of his ministry he chose to remain in constant relationship with God, he chose to love, he chose to do what God created him to do. This fact begs the question: If his life was so wonderful and his relationship to God was so awesome then why did he have to die? The answer to that question is one that has been debated for approximately 2000 years. The short and most common answer is that Jesus died for our sins. Well yes and no. Rowan Williams, maintains that Jesus’ death was intended to break the cycle of sin where we continually choose our own desires over the love of God because it is often the easier path. He believes that the only way this cycle could be broken was through divine action, but God could not just force us to toe the line, which is why he sent Jesus. The way back into loving relationship had to come from humanity and it had to involve making a choice because love and relationships without choice are meaningless. Jesus, who was human, demonstrated to us that it is possible to choose God at all times and live a good life. His choices ultimately led to his death, but that is in fact the point. He chose death, rather than continuing a life where he had even once denied or sinned against God. He chose death knowing that he was fulfilling the purpose of our creation, he chose death knowing that he would be giving humanity a way back into the garden, back into an open and loving relationship with God. The life and death of Jesus shows us that God is worth it.
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt so alone that a sense darkness and dread engulfed you and you thought that it would never end? For Jesus, today was that dark, not because he died, but because his closest friends and followers, the ones whom he loved, either hid or denied knowing him. It is the day that he thought that he was completely and utterly separated from God because how could an all loving God allow him, the one human who had never sinned, die in such a horrible manner. the truth is that God did not leave him, God did not ask him nor did God send him to die. Jesus chose to die rather than sin and by making that choice has shown us that it is possible to do the same. How many times a day do we act like Peter and deny God? How many burdens do we carry alone, refusing to unburden ourselves to God, like Jesus carried his cross? How often do we hide our faith out of fear, like Joseph of Arimathea? How often do we fail to see God in our darkest hour, like Jesus immediately before his death? The answer is often. The answer is that we continue to choose option B because it is easier.
Jesus, while enduring the agonizing pain of the cross did not see God in that moment, who would? In that one instance Jesus chose option B and asked why God had forsaken him, why had God allowed this to happen to him. That choice was a human choice and the truth is that God had not left him, nor had God allowed anything to happen to him. Jesus chose to die, rather than separate himself from God and even though Jesus may have thought, for an instant, that God had left him, God did not do that because God never leaves. Good Friday should be a reminder to us all that there is an outlet for our pain in God. We can choose to leave our pain and desires at the foot of the cross as a symbolic gesture of returning to the loving arms of God; however I caution us all, because symbolically leaving our pain at the foot of the cross and asking God to intervene is not a quick fix. What it is though is the beginning of the the process of healing and acceptance. Offering our pain up in prayer signifies that we desire God’s love, but we still need to make the choice to accept that love, even if the form in which it arrives is not what we were looking for, but when we do, God will help us heal and God will help us see that our desires may not be what is best for creation.
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