It’s actually a little perfect that it’s pouring outside today—partially because I heart rain longtime, but also because I need the calm of gloom today. And yes, I realize that Good Friday isn’t until next week, but there will be two parts to this thing. Head start and all that.
Here’s the thing; apart from the belief aspect of it (being one of the cornerstones of Christianity and all), the death of Jesus is a really big deal for me. Maybe it’s the four foot crucifix on the wall of my Catholic grandparents’ apartment I grew up with like a My Size Dead Jesus; maybe it’s all the times my mother would listen to La Via Dolorosa during Lent; maybe I took last week’s sermon too much to heart, I don’t know. But this death thing, this pain thing, this sacrifice thing—it’s been pressing on me for a while. I like a good joke as much as the next contemplative Christian blogger, but I’ve mentioned before that Lent is super intense for me, and I need to face why. (I’d also love to know if any of you identify with any of this, because it would be nice not to be That Really Weird Morbid Kid all by myself.)
It’s a messy business, yo—in truth, I still can’t read the Gospel accounts without sort of taking them at a run; there’s too much. I, who grew up in the age of first-person shooter video games with ever-more-realistic blood spatter, who watched the soldiers of three separate wars march across the nightly news along with school shootings, terrorist attacks, and every day’s new load of garden-variety homicides, who have bled and made others bleed in the cruelest talents of the human spirit—I can’t handle the printed words of the torture and death of the man called Jesus.
There are many reasons for this, but two especially that I’m willing to put on the Internet for all to see. The first is that it made me so incredibly angry.
Not angry because an innocent man died in the most ridiculously unjust series of trials ever, although that’s also true and injustice is never cool. It made me angry because for so very long, I firmly believed that the death of Jesus wasn’t freaking fair—to me.
Keep in mind that I grew up orbiting the church in a motion-and-emotion way, by which I mean that I was always plugged into some church or another and dimly aware of how the whole thing worked, but I wasn’t buying it. God held nothing useful for me beyond empty promises and pretty music. My parents would drag me to services and, every year, a Passion play, and I grew angrier and angrier at this supposedly omnipotent God letting Himself get killed and then blaming me for it.
What right did this Jesus have to tell me that He died for me? I didn’t ask for that. I never asked for some fool of a Jew to be whipped, mocked, broken and nailed to a cross to die a slow, suffocating death. I was born thousands of years later—I had no part in this, no decision that caused such condemnation. I came to hate the very idea of Christianity because these preachers, these songs, these verses, these loincloth-clad churchmen who clung to crosses on church chancels every spring and shivered in the spotlight were telling me that this Man suffered horrifically and it was somehow my fault.
I never wanted to be responsible for that death, and it pissed me off that I should be accused of having a hand in it. He was bruised for my transgressions, they said, wounded for my iniquities. What had I ever done that would earn a Man I’d never met a crown of thorns? What law had I broken with such force that Someone would get skewered with a spear in retribution?
How dare God lay this at my feet, I thought. How dare He and all His people expect me to be grateful and groveling that He had murdered His only Son on my behalf. I ended up so livid at this monstrous injustice of God that I avoided Christianity altogether for many years. To pin that suffering on me was something I couldn’t see past; to tell me that I was so lost that that kind of pain was necessary was something I could not understand.
But I was missing the point entirely. Yes, Jesus died for me—but also for my grandfather, my pastor, my mailman, the lady in the rent office, my 6th grade English teacher, my best friend, my brother, the billions of people I don’t know in this world, the billions who died long before me and even more who will come after and never know my name. His pain was never meant to be a one-for-one transaction; it is not my fault but His choice to become the excruciating sorrow of all the incredible brokenness of this world, from the smallest white lie to the most mind-numbing horrors. This death was the act of a God so desperately in love with His creation that He literally would do anything for us. For me. He wanted my attention, my love, not my guilt or apology. God died not so that He could make me feel small and unworthy, but so that He could lift me into His realm, converse with me on His terms. I never asked for this and I will never have to, because God sees the long-term plan that I can’t; He sees that this is not about condemning me, but redeeming me.
This is still very much a process for me, which is why the title is in present rather than past tense. Actually, I put this into words for one of the very first times a couple of weeks ago—I wish I could remember what I said, because it was way more eloquent than this, but the point of the matter is that it’s not about it being my fault. And the bigger thing, the much, much more important thing, is that after all of this suffering, Jesus didn’t stay dead. But we’ll get to that next week, in part two. In the meantime, happy Palm Sunday. Hosanna indeed.
We are ruled by the love of Christ, now that we recognize that one man died for everyone, which means that they all share in his death. He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake. No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:14-17, GNT)