Scripture Readings for April 14, 2017
Good Friday recounts Jesus death on the cross. This happens because people killed him. It didn’t happen to pay off a God who had been tracking human offenses and needed repayment. It did happen because God had been trying to save humanity for centuries and people didn’t understand the true implications of the message from prophets, priests and history. Jesus dies because people’s hatred and fear destroyed the best efforts of the Son of God. Except, of course, people didn’t really destroy those efforts they only managed to kill the messenger, as we so often do.
What we are still trying to take to heart communally is that God wants to give us a life of beauty and peace. We generally find it hard to believe that offer is real. So some person, a real, in-the-flesh human being, had to demonstrate the peace and love of God’s presence so the rest of us could recognize what God’s peace, love and joy would look like. By doing that, Jesus literally changes history, changes the reality we live in by accomplishing what God has wanted since Adam looked across the garden. In Biblical terms, Jesus does what Adam failed to do. People now live in a world where God’s will has been done. At least once.
The problem is, it cost Jesus everything to do it. So it doesn’t look like a victory. Only Easter solves this problem. But that’s a discussion for another day. Today, he dies brutally because by remaining faithful to a life of love, mercy and generosity the political and religious powers of the time were threatened. Today too, radical Christian living threatens the status quo. People in power want to keep it. Privilege expects to keep privileges and doesn’t worry about those damaged in the process. This is the weight of human sin that fell on Jesus and everyone else who now knows there is divine value in living out of love. Jesus came to show us a God that literally lives with us and he was therefore subjected to all the tragic evil a defensive human race could muster.
It’s crucial that we get this right because otherwise we twist the message into a horror. God’s message is that God is with us, takes on our sins, our failures, our fears and hatred in order to give us a chance to live freely, generously and happily. This death of Jesus isn’t about God exercising justice because of humanity’s failures, it’s about God absorbing the consequences of human injustice. God will take and transform the worst we can dish out into a glorious tomorrow. (OK, that is Easter.) Jesus’ death is the demonstration that God means business, “I do what I say,” in this case, that God’s life lives with us.
This is not an easy message. Because Jesus does absorb everything the Romans could do to him. He died. That means being a Christian, one that is trying to live as Jesus did, can be a dangerous and costly life choice. Jesus death doesn’t fix the human condition. It only succeeds in establishing the possible. That’s why the St. Paul warns “we are baptized into his death.” Living a Christian life should change us and it will cost us something. How much depends on what each of us can manage to risk, to love, to give of ourselves accepting that what happens may not look like success. The key is that we live out of love, giving as Jesus did, and therefore, establishing that no matter what life often looks like, God’s love, care and generosity do exist in this world.