As Christians around the world enter Holy Week, I find myself considering the story of the crucifixion… again. The common belief that Jesus died for all — to pay for our sins so that we may be reconciled to God — has been a formula I’ve struggled with for some time. That kind of atonement theology does not satisfy my reasoning. As one who subscribes to a loving, life-giving, and merciful God, I reject the idea of a sadistic payoff being required to right all of humanity’s wrongs. Maybe for some that notion works, giving them a place to go with guilt and unworthiness, but I cannot bless violence this way. For me, that image of God resembles an abusive parent which betrays every notion I’ve ever understood about what Divine Love looks like.
Instead, what resonates deeper with me is the idea that, in Jesus’ unwarranted and horrific death, we see what sin looks like and just how very ugly and destructive it is — when we persecute, or assassinate, the innocent because their views differ from ours, or we don’t like their perspective on God, or we feel threatened by their transformative influence (albeit peaceful). And for some of us, we are simply complicit in this kind of maltreatment because we stand by and do nothing. So as I reflect upon the cross I ask God to “wake me up” to my transgressions, to where I contribute harm instead of help or hope, so that I may do better.
Did Jesus reconcile us to God? Indeed, in his earthly ministry spanning just three years he revealed an understanding of a God who is loving and approachable, vast yet intimate. He taught us radical new ways of practicing peace, mercy, and justice. He drew us into right relationship with God and each other. Was his actual death sacrificial? Of course, as we realize how far his love and integrity would go — that he was willing to risk his own life for what he believed and the truth he felt compelled to share. What a challenge for any Christian to consider: How long might I be willing to stand unwavering in my values and convictions?
There are different ways to view the cross. For me, when I contemplate it, I see how devastating sin can be and how far Love will go to reach us. I remember that Jesus gave all he had to give.
May you be inspired!
Note: This reflection can also be found in Tau Center’s “Still Point: Journey of Lent 2022.”