How do you think about Good Friday? Is Jesus’ death an unfortunate accident? Did Jesus die on the cross to atone for the sins of the whole world, past, present and to come? Was he a scapegoat who carried our sins for us and, by dying, took those sins away? How could God stand idly by and let His Son die? By allowing Jesus to die, do we incur God’s wrath for all time, since we are responsible for His death?
Theologians through the centuries have spilled much ink and Christians have spilled much blood amongst each other debating this issue. They all start, however, from the same place: Jesus HAD to die on the cross. Without his death, our faith is meaningless.
I was at a clergy gathering a few years ago, and there was a panel of diocesan clergy assembled to lead us in discussions of what theologians call “The Atonement”: Jesus’ taking responsibility for our sins by dying on the cross. There was a wide spectrum of opinion from Evangelical to Middle of the road Anglican to progressive. That was when I heard an intriguing argument. I find it intriguing not because it makes Jesus’ death easier to handle, but because it comes at the issue from a different perspective. Simply put, this priest argued that the cross was not inevitable. Jesus was not sent here to die. He was sent to save us by his teaching, not his sacrifice.
This position makes Good Friday harder, not easier. It also opens up for me the truth about how God uses power. God is an all-powerful being. Now, when we hear that we tend to think of God as some Hollywood superhero, vaporizing His enemies with just a look. What if God chooses to use his power to recreate, rather than to destroy?
Jesus’ death on the cross is more of an indictment of human behavior and sinfulness than it is of Divine Will. By nailing Jesus to the cross, we show our depravity before God: we go so far as to kill His Son, and by extension, kill a part of God. Human power is almost always focused on destruction, domination, or vengeance. We show that human arrogance when we attempt and succeed in killing The Prince of Peace. By having the all too human drama played out to its final, horrible conclusion on Calvary hill, God is not making his son be the sacrificial lamb, or even “allowing” this to happen. We made it happen. We are responsible. If the cross were inevitable, then we would have no control whatsoever over the events of Holy Week. We would have no ownership, we would have no responsibility, and we would not recognize the gift that God is for us.
The “Good” in Good Friday is that we ARE responsible for the death of Jesus. We killed Jesus as a fully conscious act and as an exercise of our fallen, sinful and depraved free will. The end of this thought will come later. Wait for it.
God sent Jesus here to free us from ourselves. From the worst of ourselves. What would have happened if those who heard His words actually put those teachings into action? What would happen if everyone loved their enemies, blessed those who cursed them, acted with goodness and compassion. Peace? An end to suffering? An end to violence, self destruction, greed, and subjugation?
Sounds like The Kingdom to me.
Jesus didn’t just preach the kingdom, he showed us how to be the kingdom. It is a pretty straightforward message. Not a whole lot of mystery.
The Good in Good Friday is that, even though we killed God’s son, God didn’t kill us.
The cross happened. God’s blood was upon the spearhead. God’s love was refused. But we are still here. God shows God’s power by NOT acting like us. The mighty act of rebirth, of resurrection, is God’s way of showing His omnipotence. God shows us who He is by showing mercy and pity, not grinding us into dust.
The good news is that we have the capacity to be the kingdom Jesus lived and preached. Nothing is inevitable. We can do infinite good and we can do infinite evil.
Just like the cross, the choice is ours.