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 put off tackling the Good Friday texts as long as I dare. Then I pick 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 Crossan’s “How to Read the Bible and Still Be Christian” and James Carroll’s “Christ Actually: the Son of God for the Secular Age” spend days 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 the progressive scholars for their invaluable resources. However, in the end, the only way to discover the sermon is to wander into the darkness, trusting that the hours of preparation will allow you to let go, breathe, and trust the One who lives in, with, through, and beyond you.
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. Continue reading