Died for our sins ?
In the light of Bob Carr’s comment on Q & A, herewith my Good Friday sermon
For over seventy years I have pondered the significance of Good Friday and I think I have at last got it. I freely concede, however, that next year it may be otherwise for ours is an evolving faith. But at this point of time the significance of Good Friday or God’s Friday as I prefer to call it is as clear as it ever could be – and it is contained in one verse of scripture, a verse that has been grossly misunderstood for centuries: John 3:19. We usually read it as “This is the judgment” but this is a translation that misses the point. The Greek word translated as judgment is Krisis – and there are no prizes for guessing the meaning of that word! John is talking about a crisis and the word crisis is defined in the dictionary as “A decisive or vitally important stage in the course of anything; a turning point; a critical time or occasion; the point in the course of a disease leading to recovery or death”. John spells it out in no uncertain manner: “This is the crisis: the light was in the world and the people preferred the darkness to the light.” This was and is the crisis, that the light was/is in the world and people prefer the darkness to the light.
Why did it take so long for me to see the meaning of the cross?
Granted the fact that I may well be described as a slow learner, the reason why it took so long for me to see the meaning of Good Friday was that my vision was blocked by a green hill far away with a locked gate on it and behind which was a heavenly reward. And the way to open the gate was to pour sacred blood upon the locked gate. Am I parodying a great hymn of the Church? Yes! Because it is a parody based on self centredness – the exact opposite to everything this day is about and what Jesus taught and did. Jesus didn’t die for our sins! There is no debt to be paid! He died to show us the way and the truth about life. The world is on a journey. We are evolving and we have reached that stage of consciousness where we are involved in deciding where the journey will take us. God is the creative energy of life inviting us to fullness of life, and Jesus is the one who personifies it .
Do we get it? It really is quite simple. The cross, the way of creative non violence, reveals the way to go, the way to fullness of life!
Pilate is the one with whom I identify in the Easter story : well educated, legally trained , and probably coming from a family of some standing in the community. He was smart, not dumb like Judas who thought he could force Jesus into doing something spectacular like leading a revolution against Rome. Pilate was no fool. He met the Prince of Peace and was impressed. Give Pilate his due, he tried his damnedest to get Jesus off, but in the end he chickened out. He chickened out in the face of public opinion, people crying out “crucify him”. The crowd controlled Pilate. “If you release him you are no friend of Caesar”. The crowd threatened Pilate’s place in society. And this, after all, is what determines so much of our action. Peer pressure is what we call it today. And therein lies the message of Good Friday for everyone of us – crucifixion occurs every time we bow to peer pressure, when instead of going Jesus way we choose instead to deify the system, the society in which we live. We need to recognize that the Easter story is fundamentally counter-cultural. The starting point of any consideration of the crucifixion must be its counter-cultural nature. Jesus was charged with subverting the existing order – and he did not dispute that charge!
The cross has in the past been theologised to death (or, to be more accurate, theologized to life after death in some kind of heaven). “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the doors of heaven and let us in.” Not for me! Such an approach necessitates a cruel, punishing, murderous, vindictive God and I do not see that kind of God revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The sacrificial, substitutionary and ransom theories of the atonement do not do justice to the cross and lose the significance of the event. Consideration of the cross must begin with its plainest meaning as the death penalty for subversion. Death is the ultimate sanction of the powers that be. It is the ultimate sanction of political and social control. Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the status quo.
And he still is, as should be those of us who bear his name. He said as much himself: “If anyone would be my disciple, let them take up their cross and follow me”.