The Church’s Good Friday obsession with talk of “sacrifice for sin” has been breed into the bones of this particular preacher. I have been trained to speak the language of the Church. I know full well the many doctrines of atonement that have been proposed to explain the reasons Jesus died upon a cross. I’ve been studying the historical context and the theological consequences of Jesus’ death for more years than I care to admit. Yet every year, I find myself wanting to book a vacation or call in sick so that I can avoid the awesome task of preaching on Good Friday.
I’ve put it off tackling the Good Friday texts as long as I dare. So, I picked up my copy of “The Last Week” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, together with my copies of John Shelby Spong’s “Resurrection: Myth or Reality” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” as well as Marcus Borg’s final book “Convictions” and Dom Corssan’s new book “How to Read the Bible and Still Be Christian and spent the day in pursuit of a sermon.
What follows is not the sermon I will preach on Good Friday, but rather, the notes I made a few years ago to remind myself not to fall into the trap of talking about the events surrounding Jesus’ death in the way I was trained to speak of those events. I offer up my notes hoping that those who are engaged in the struggle of grappling with how to talk about the cross in the 21st century might find some solace in a fellow struggler’s ruminations. For those of you who don’t have to come up with a sermon for Good Friday, I offer these notes as my humble attempt to see beyond the rhetoric about the cross to the Good News. As always I am indebted to Marcus, Dom. and Jack for their scholarship.
There are many ways in which our focus upon the cross is disturbing. Not the least of which is the way in which we as Christians tend to talk about the crucifixion as Jesus’ passion. I have always thought it a tragedy that we should describe the events of Jesus’ crucifixion as Jesus’ passion. I’ve always understood talk of an individual’s passion to be concern with those things that people lived for. And so to insist that Jesus’ lived to die a horrible death might sooth those who seek to turn Jesus into some sort of preordained blood sacrifice.
But for those of us who look to Jesus in search of the face of God, such talk seems is indeed a crime against divinity. For what kind of petty, sadistic god would engineer the birth of, foster the life of, and then engineer the death of a beloved child. Surely such a god is no more than a wicked illusion of our own making. I wonder what Jesus himself would make of the god we have created. I wonder what Jesus himself would make of our Good Friday commemorations? I suspect that if Jesus is anything like the accounts of his life suggest, he would be mortified, and I mean that literally…I think that Jesus would be mortified …mortified ie shamed to death…of what has become of his life’s passion; for if Jesus’ was passionate about anything, he was passionate about life. Jesus declared, “I have come so that you may have life and live it abundantly.” Jesus’ passion was about living. Living fully, abundantly.
Jesus’ passion was about a world where everyone could live life fully and abundantly. Jesus went from town to town urging people to live. Jesus struggled to free people from their narrow understandings to, open themselves to the wonders of creation, and to praise the Creator who he called Abba, in ways that honored God by loving. Indeed, Jesus defined Abba as LOVE itself. Jesus was so in tune with this LOVE that he was able to say, “I and the Abba are ONE.” Jesus embodied LOVE. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE that is God that he was able to live his life fully without fear. I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE that is God that they too would live their lives fully without fear. I believe that that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.”
I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that means that he loved abundantly and without fear. Jesus was so open to the power of LOVE that is God that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully. The kind of LOVE that Jesus embodied and taught has no boundaries. No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE. For if LOVE is limited by death, then love will always be qualified and quantified.
That Jesus was willing to LOVE without boundaries came at great cost to himself. But Jesus was willing to pay that price to show us the way; the way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries. LOVE without boundaries is abundant life. That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, bears witness to the power of LOVE. That Jesus LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from the need to fear death. For Jesus has shown us the way and we can live abundantly lives that are free from the fear of death. Because Jesus has shown us the way we are free to live fully, love extravagantly and be all that we were created to be. Jesus taught us that life without fear freed us from the powers of darkness that enslave the world. Life without fear is the first step toward justice. And justice and not violence is the way to peace. And peace is God’s will for creation.
The early Christians stood out in the world for a reason. Those first Christians were called followers of the Way. The Way that Jesus taught them was the path to peace through justice. Jesus called us to usher in God’s reign of peace in the world by seeking justice for all of God’s creation. For justice and not violence is the way to peace.
Jesus was so passionate about his belief that living life abundantly, without fear would lead to justice that in turn would lead to peace on earth that he was willing to live his life as the embodiment of the LOVE of God. Jesus died not for our sins, but to show us the way. To show us that God’s ways are not our ways: that our ways of greed, injustice, and violence lead only to war and death. But God’s ways of love, grace, and justice lead to peace and life.
Jesus believed so passionately in the ways of love, grace, and justice that he was willing to live a life that embodied love, grace and justice so that all the world could see the way to peace and abundant life. And that leads me to the other thing that disturbs me about the way so many Christians talk about the crucifixion.
That we should look upon the cross and see only the symbol of our personal salvation is a travesty that fails to see the magnitude of Jesus life and witness. How can we fail to see the truth that Jesus life and witness were so powerful that death could not contain them is?
Why do we find it so easy to forget that in Jesus life and witness those first followers of the way were so moved by the power of Jesus life and witness that when they looked upon the cross they saw the Christ, the anointed one, the very face of God on earth? Does our preoccupation with our own personal salvation blind us to the reality of Christ?
We need to broaden our vision. We need to see Christ crucified in order to see the terrible reality that Christ continues to be crucified over and over again. For just as surely as Christ died upon the cross, those who follow the ways of Christ, the ways of grace, of justice and peace, those who embody Love, continue to be tortured, battered, abused and hauled up upon crosses and executed by the forces of darkness, violence and death. The crucifixion didn’t happen once and for all, way back when. Christ is crucified over and over again as the ways of greed, violence, war and death exact their punishment on the innocent victims of the world.
Christ is crucified all over again when calls for peace through justice go unanswered.
Christ is crucified all over again in the countless deaths that are claimed by our lust for power and quest for stuff.
Christ is crucified all over again when creation, scarred and wounded is poisoned by our arrogance and greed.
Christ is crucified again and again, when we fail to see the face of God in our sisters and brothers of every clan and race.
Jesus was passionate about his desire that we should have life and live it abundantly.
Jesus was passionate that the way to achieve abundant life for all of God’s creation was through justice because justice is the way to peace. Jesus was executed precisely because the ways of justice and peace threatened the ways of peace through victory. The powers that be sought to conquer their enemies rather than love them; to vanquish and kill their way to a peace that could only be maintained through injustice and was only peace if you could number yourself among the conquerors, the victorious, the strong, and powerful. And no peace at all if you were among the weak and powerless. Jesus took a stand on the pathway that leads to peace. And the powers that be nailed him to a cross believing that his death would ensure their power. But Jesus’ life and witness were so powerful that in Jesus people saw the face of Christ, and death could not and will not contain Christ. The powers of darkness will have their day. But not even death can contain Christ. For Christ comes again and again and is embodied in those who work for peace through justice, grace and love. And that dear sisters and brothers is the Good News of Good Friday. Not even death can contain the life and witness of Jesus who is the Christ the very face of God in our midst!
May God continue to dwell with us so that we too can bear the face of Christ to the world.