I was asked by a colleague, “So, if you do not believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?” Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “penal sacrificial atonement” ie “we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, God sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin”. That Anslem’s theory of sacrificial atonement was formulated in the 11th century and continues to hold sway in the minds of so many followers of Christ is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology. However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death.
When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst cruel and vindictive. I have often said that atonement theories leave God looking like a cosmic son of #%#%# ! Progressive Christian theologians are opening up new ways of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus that empower the faithful to see new possibilities. To my colleague, who fears that I am leading the faithful astray, and to those who find little comfort in the theories of an 11th century monastic, I the following notes, crafted in my preparation to lead Maundy Thursday worship.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.” That we should love one another is not a new commandment. There have been many before Jesus and many who came after Jesus who have commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.”
What is new about Jesus commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question: How exactly did Jesus love? I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE that is God; that Jesus 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 so 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 in order to show others 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.
Jesus has shown us the way. 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, to love extravagantly and be all that we were created to be.
LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE.
If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely they teach us not to be afraid.
Not to be afraid of the darkness.
Not to be afraid of living fully.
Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly.
Not to be afraid of the powers of evil.
Not to be afraid of the power of death.
LOVE will endure.
All will be well.
Jesus can’t save us from life.
There is evil to contend with.
There will be darkness and there will be death.
Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are part of life. Each of us must walk into the darkness that lies before us. We can beg God to take the cup from us! But the darkness will still come. And there will be days when the darkness will triumph. There are good Fridays too many to mention out there. We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness.
The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another they way that Jesus loved. It is the way beyond the darkness. Do not be afraid of evil, of death, or of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by love frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears so that we can have life and live it abundantly.