By Rev. Heather Blais
Good Friday leaves me with more questions than answers:
We might be tempted to seek out concrete answers. Instead, I would invite us to sit with the questions, and not get too caught up in finding ‘the right answers’. Living with ambiguity often makes us uncomfortable, and challenges our need to be in control. Yet somehow it is in the strange, amorphous places that we can sometimes see God most clearly. So let’s spend a few minutes sitting with these questions…
Why did Jesus die?
It would seem Jesus pushed too many people’s boundaries. He represented change; preaching a message of God’s love that was accessible to both the most undesirable people of Jesus’ time and the most powerful. As a result, he was perceived as a threat - and the question was, to whom and to what?
Who should be held responsible?
Luke makes some suggestions:
This passage has been problematic, contributing to anti-Judaic attitudes within the Church. As modern day readers, it is important that we notice these attitudes whenever we hear ‘the Jews’ in the New Testament.
Liturgical scholar Louis Weil observes that,
“...by the time of the writing of Luke’s Gospel, the hostility between the Christian disciples (most of whom were themselves Jewish) and the Jewish leaders had become acrimonious. It is likely that this hostility affected the way in which the recounting of the events of the Passion were presented. It is not special pleading to suggest that the account in Luke may exaggerate the culpability of the Jewish leaders for its own polemic purpose.”
As someone writing beyond the Jewish community, it would have been all too easy for Luke to make costly generalizations and assumptions.
Was it necessary?
Well, is it ever necessary to put someone to death for their beliefs and ideas? The Church’s theology of the cross has certainly tried to make Jesus' death a necessary part of God’s plan.
Theologian David Lose reflected on how the Church may have come to view the cross as a necessary “...instrument of divine justice and punishment…” because “...we would expect a holy, just and powerful God to demand punishment for sin…”
He goes on to say that “...perhaps our imagination has been so shaped by the systems of power of this world that we can only imagine God as a mighty king offended by the sin of his subjects. Yet if we take the countless stories Luke shares about Jesus and, more importantly, Jesus' words about God and God’s kingdom seriously, then we might grow more accustomed to God doing the unexpected. God just forgiving us out of love rather than demanding satisfaction first. God acting more [like a] desperate parent than an angry monarch. God reaching out again and again in love and mercy rather than expecting retribution.”
What does this story tell us about God? About us?
I think it might be time for the Church to reconsider how we have historically understood the cross. Because somehow, it has never made sense that the same God who would run to their child in the story of the prodigal son, would require the sacrifice of their own child in an ultimate act of atonement for humanity.
Maybe we could stop using God as an explanation for real people succumbing to the powers of evil in this world. Our egos, our selfish desires, our need for control and order, our love of power and position. Excusing human decisions that led to putting a young man in his thirties, with a mother and friends who loved him, to death on the cross. We may think such a choice was one time in history kind of event, but as citizens of the United States, we witness men and women who are brown like Jesus die everyday due to those same powers of evil. How could such death ever be part of God’s dream for this world?
Where do we go from here?
We learn to live with our corporate brokenness. The death of Jesus, or anyone else, never lay with just one person or institution. We live together in a society, in community. We share mutual care and responsibility for one another. This means the weight of the world is never just ours to bear - it is our collective, communal responsibility.
We learn that all we can control is our own selves, how we will greet each moment, how we will relate to God, and how we will partake in our common life.
We await the Good News that we know is coming. Because our God is a God of endless second chances. There will be joy, love, grace, and forgiveness. Right now, all we can do is sit in this moment, together, living with our questions. Amen.
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