Sacrifice, Suffering, and Easter
Next Thursday, May 4 (May is next week … wow), I will be at a clergy gathering with Bp. Sutton at All Saints, Frederick. The overall topic of the day will be a book the bishop has us reading called, Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now.
In essence, the author, Sally Brown, examines various atonement theories and how they are or are not helpful when discussing the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. It's a good book with too much depth to go into here, but suffice it to say that she comes down squarely against any interpretation of the crucifixion that picture the event as divine child abuse, a glorification of suffering, or as a systemic example of keeping vulnerable people in a perpetual state of vulnerability.
Two questions we must ask ourselves as Christians are these: What was the point of the crucifixion? and, What effect does the cross have on our lives?
It was through the cross that Jesus redeemed the world. Jesus didn't take our place on the cross to satisfy the penal requirements of a vengeful God; what Jesus did on the cross was much bigger than that. What Jesus did on the cross was to break down the walls that divide us – walls that divide us from each other and from God. The crucifixion was a sentence carried out by the powers of the world that were, and are, opposed to the system of God. This is why Jesus was silent before Pilate, because there was nothing for him to say that could be understood by this world.
Jesus' actions on the cross have broken down the barriers and walls that divide us. As we move through our lives as Christians it is important for us to recognize that. It's important for us to recognize that we do not need to spend our time breaking down walls, because Jesus and the cross already broke those walls down. What we are called to do, says Brown, is to structure our lives in such a way that we live like we believe the walls have already come down.
This is not an easy task. Because while Jesus and the cross broke down those walls and barriers, the world is busy working to build them back up. The suffering of Jesus on the cross showed us how the world treats people more interested in restoration than in division. And when we follow Jesus, when we work towards living in a kingdom of God that has no barriers, the world will make us suffer. But our suffering, and the suffering of Jesus, must never be undertaken for the simple sake of suffering. If that were the case, suffering would never be holy, it would only be pitiful.
The suffering of Jesus on the cross, the suffering of minorities at the hands of powerful elite, the suffering of women and children at the hands of their husbands and fathers, must always be taken in the context of suffering against evil. The cross is the ultimate symbol of resistance. When we stand up against evil, injustice, and abuses of power, we are standing with Christ saying, “This is not the way.”
The way of the cross sees barriers already broken down. The way of the cross allows us to resist injustices and oppression. The way of the cross may lead to our own suffering. But the way of the cross also leads to life.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! How will the cross allow you to see new life?