For those of us who have been around the Christian tradition in North America for any length of time, Good Friday has always been about the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross to save us. Since I was a child, I have heard the theological soundbite, “Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.” And that is true, as far as it goes.
But a faithful reading of the New Testament witness suggests that there was something bigger going on. If Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing in the reign of God, then what happened on the cross certainly has to be bigger than the personal forgiveness of my sins or anyone else’s. Yes, Jesus healed individuals, and proclaimed to individuals the forgiveness of their sins. I’m not trying to deny or minimize any of that. When he did that, however, those miracles and those proclamations were signs pointing to the larger work that he came to do: to bring in the reign of God. If there was something cosmic going on in Jesus’ life and ministry, then it seems reasonable to believe that something larger was also going on in his death. “For God so loved the world. . .”
For whatever reason (it probably has something to do with what I’ve been reading the past several months) those larger implications of Jesus’ death have filled my reflections, my prayers, and my writing this Holy Week. Those reflections become so hauntingly sharp and troubling as I look around at the world. For instance:
- In the month or so since the disappearance of the Malaysian jet, the search for debris from the wreckage has brought to our collective consciousness just how filled with garbage the oceans are. Every time we have thought we have located some of the wreckage, it has turned out to be more floating garbage — the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of what has already sunk and lies at the bottom.
- We’re witnessing a classic international power-grab in the tension between Russia and the Ukraine.
- The capsizing of a ferry filled with high school students off the coast of Korea, the increase in kidnapping of girls from boarding schools in Nigeria, the violent last weekend in the City of Chicago, and on and on and on.
- The civil war in Syria in which the Assad regime seems willing to pay an extraordinarily steep price to maintain their hold on power — the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the decimation of their country.
- The gradual, and nearly complete, transition in our own country from a democracy to an oligarchy, confirmed by yet one more decision by the U. S. Supreme Court removing the limits on how much individuals can contribute to political campaigns.
For me, these are clearly signs of a broken and fallen world that is not only full of pain and struggle, but is full of evil.
If what Jesus did on the cross did anything at all, it must have something to do with God’s intentions to overcome sin and evil on a grand scale. And I can ’t believe that it’s only eschatological, that it will only come in that grand chase scene at the end of this long movie that we call time. So, what is happening? Does Jesus’ death make any difference for the sin and evil of humanity on this grand scale?
I don’t know that I have any clear answers. What I know and trust and believe — we don’t call that “clear answers,” we call that faith — is that God must have done something in the cross that still remains hidden. And that what Jesus did for me personally on the cross must have something to do with my part in that larger work that God is even now doing.
(And if you’re interested and in the area, that’s exactly what we will be reflecting on this evening at our Good Friday Liturgy of the Cross.)