While the traditional understanding of the Crucifixion as a blood sacrifice for human “sin” is irreconcilable to millions of Christians who believe in a loving God, it would be disloyal to our heritage not to acknowledge that it’s an image that long motivated the faithful to acts of love, charity, and yes, sacrifice.
However, if we forego the convoluted concept of God incarnating “himself” in order to offer himself as a sacrifice to himself so that “He” wouldn’t have to throw us all into Hell, what are we left with?
The thing that those who crave the certainty of a literal Scripture fear most – doubt.
Doubt and questions.
Far from undermining our faith though, doubt and question are its lifeblood. Without doubting religious doctrine, or questioning our assumptions about what our relationship with God is founded on, our faith is nothing but dead ritual and recitation.
The writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke use similar versions of the narrative of Jesus’ arrest and execution.
And they all start with Jesus’ doubt.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks God to change the plan. After all, he’d spent three years spreading the message of agapé, and had made quite a name for himself. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep on going?
The struggle, once again, is between the material and the spiritual; the desires of the world, and the transformative power of our relationship with God.
Just as, during the encounter with Satan in the wilderness, Jesus has to choose between ruling the world and transforming it, here again, he has to make the same choice.
How often do we face similar choices? And how often do we choose the material – our immediate wants and desires – over the opportunity to support and nurture all of Creation?
Whether it’s our personal relationships or our relationship with the earth, we can choose the path that’s easiest for us, or the one that is in harmony with God’s desire for a world in which we all live for each other.
Matthew and Mark continue the struggle all the way to the Cross. They have Jesus utter the opening words of Psalm 22 – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And they include other references that would have made the connection as clear to their audience as the opening lines of Amazing Grace are to us today.
They seem content to leave it to the reader to understand the redemption that lies at the end of that hymn – the assurance that “all the ends of the earth will remember, and turn to God.”
Luke is more direct. It’s this account that gives voice to the two others crucified with Jesus. Far from anguished or uncertain, Jesus offers an assurance that “paradise” awaits. Luke also offers a resoundingly confident conclusion, having Jesus say “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus’ followers, however, will doubt and question for a time yet. For them, it seems as though the world has won. All the talk about equality; about peace; about loving one another in the way Jesus had shown them, seems empty.
The inseverable relationship of agapé, apparently, can be broken by nothing more than a few nails and the thirst for worldly power embodied in Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate.
We often think that, knowing “the rest of the story”, we have an advantage over the disciples. We have no need to be fearful. We know what happens next.
But do we act any differently?
Do we insist on justice for all?
Do we resist those who would exploit others?
Do we put compassion ahead of personal comfort?
If not, perhaps we should ask ourselves this question –
What is it about our relationship with Creation, and the Creator, that we doubt?