Just got back from “The Last Walk,” an interactive Stations of the Cross experience the youth in our church planned and put together. It was–by far–the most meaningful Good Friday worship experience I’ve ever had. Ever.
I could tell you about the experience-it-yourself communion on the table in the sanctuary or the weighted bags meant to help us feel the weight of the cross. I could tell you about the (Hershey’s) “kisses” of betrayal or the rooster-shaped planter that received our written confessions of denial. I could write for days about the mirror placed on an easel in such a way that when you looked in the mirror, it was as if you yourself were on the cross. Yes. I could write for days about that.
But what I want to tell you tonight is how it felt to kneel in front of the banner that read, “Not my will, but thine.” As I knelt, the pleadings of Jesus to God to “let this cup pass” from him fresh in my mind, I was struck by this insight: He didn’t want to do it. Jesus really didn’t want to do it. He would have given anything, if these texts are to be believed, not to have been executed…but as much as he didn’t want to do it, as much as he dreaded what he must have known was coming, still he said “Not my will but thine.”
Why? Why relent? Why give himself over to God’s will? Why give himself over to a process that could lead only to his death?
As I knelt there praying, thinking, reflecting, feeling (or trying to) some of the anguish of Jesus’ prayer, the answer came to me. Why, despite his dread of what was to come, did Jesus give himself over to the process that would end with the cross? He did it for love. Jesus gave himself over to the way of the cross because he loved people.
My favorite definition of love comes from Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison who says (this might be a paraphrase): “Love is the power to act each other into well-being.” To love someone is to hope for and act toward the beloved’s well-being, his or her’s flourishing…and yet, the world in which Jesus lived was one that favored the well-being of only a few. The systems of that 1st c world were violently unjust. Anyone who challenged those systems as much as Jesus did? Execution was highly likely…because that’s what evil does to love–it destroys it, or seeks to.
Anyone who loves people and wants to act them into well-being, anyone who wants justice, grace, and mercy for all people, anyone who is willing to face the powers-that-be and call them on their hypocrisy also must be prepared to reap the consequences of his actions. In his anguished prayer that night, I think that’s what Jesus was doing–he was reconciling himself to the natural consequences of the actions he’d been taking on behalf of the people, especially people not represented well by the social systems. Because of his love for people, Jesus took on the work of advocating for them…and in his final prayer, he also accepted the reality of the consequences for that advocacy–his execution.
Could Jesus have done it another way? I don’t think so. I’m way, way past all that substitutionary atonement stuff…the idea that “Jesus died for my sins.” That’s not what I mean when I say that I don’t think Jesus could have done it any other way. What I do mean is that I don’t think we would have gotten the message–any of us–if he hadn’t died. His death showed just how virulent and violent evil is. Evil destroys.
Evil destroys…but love builds up, love seeks the well-being of the beloved, love hopes for the wholeness of the beloved. And–as we know well–love wins….that is the message of resurrection.
I’m 46 years old and am still trying to figure out this whole crucifixon/resurrection thing…but the thing I got much clearer about tonight is that Jesus did it all for love.
Thanks be to God.