X May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It’s a sorry, grim tale: the vast majority of humanity at its worst, a very few at their very best. How can this gruesome death make any sense? How could it have anything to do with God’s plan?
Well, let’s try turning the picture upside down: can we imagine Jesus living a long and peaceful life and then passing away quietly in his bed? Why isn’t that death right for the Son of God? It’s not just that that isn’t the story we know – it really doesn’t fit anything else we know about him. Everything he did was for his Father. Everything he did was to teach something. He didn’t have to die simply as a consequence of having lived – as we do – it’s that a peaceful death would have taught us nothing.
So what is that lesson? For some centuries the loudest idea was that the Cross was a sacrifice – a price paid for our sin. If we accepted that idea and repented enough, then we were with the in-crowd, the saved. But this turns our loving God into a cosmic version of a distant, punishing, monster of a father. There is evidence to be found in the Bible for this view, but it requires us to shut our ears to the other, balancing and overwhelming set of evidence. The evidence for the God who is Love.
The God who acts in history, the God who saves, does so for his name’s sake – I AM that I AM – because he cannot but be who he is. Out of his love for us he leaves us free to love him back, free also to love other things instead. I would say that in 21st-century Primrose Hill, perhaps the things we love most are our comfort and security, and it is those that get in the way of our loving God back fully. Not that comfort and security are bad things, but that we put them first.
I can hear the voice in my head justifying this: “Of course I put those things first – doesn’t everyone?” We spend a lot of effort on hitting a balance between being ourselves, and being someone the majority will accept. It’s dangerous and frightening not to be one of the pack. The majority love people like themselves. We forget that God loves all of us.
Jesus spoke for the God of love. The God who judges, yes, but in order to forgive, not to condemn. It is the world which condemns – “Crucify him!” And who are “the world”? The majority of people, largely made up of the silent majority – silent so as to protect their comfort and security. You could not have an image further from comfort and security than the Cross.
So that’s the stark lesson, then: in a world which worships, amongst other idols, comfort and security, the cost of loving – in the self-giving way that God does – is the Cross. Sometimes that cross comes in close relationships: children putting love for their failing parents before their own comfort. Sometimes it comes in work situations: people putting love of truth before their promotion. It’s not the amount of pain involved, as if we had to pay in units of pain to buy off God, but the refashioning of ourselves. The stretching needed to reach across as Jesus did, from the human to the divine – from the comfortable to the self-giving.
Jesus died because of sin, yes, but not to buy God off. Jesus died to show us how skewed that vision of God was. In heaven, self-giving love will doubtless look very different, but in the world of the self-serving, self-protecting majority, the inevitable price of self-giving love looks like this: a battered body held up to ridicule.
The sorry tale leaves us with these questions:
- Will you be seen dead with me, or with them?
- Are you ready to offer your life and meet the cost of love?
- Comfort – or Cross? Security – or falling headlong into the hands of the living God?