This isn’t going to be a deep post supported by a lot of engagement with scripture and church tradition. I’d do that for a sermon, or if I was trying to “prove” that what I’m saying is within the Christian mainstream (it is). But, that’s not what I’m trying to do here.
When somebody says “Jesus died for your sins” I don’t really know what that means. Well, I know what I think it means. But I tend to think that the person saying that has a different understanding than me.
I bring this up because today I was sitting my class about Religion in American Society and our professor decided to go over the Stations of the Cross with us. No, it doesn’t have to do with the purported subject matter of the class. But we did it anyways.
And I was awestruck! I was reminded that this whole crucifixion thing is a big deal. Christians worship as our Lord somebody who was killed by the death penalty in an extremely painful way in a ruthless political empire.
I believe that Jesus died because of human sin. I believe that human sin is one of the most important theological concepts that the Church needs to deal with today, even though we try to avoid it. Anybody seeking a world of justice and peace — the kingdom of God Jesus revealed — needs to grapple with it.
It was human sin that nailed Jesus to the cross – deciding in favor of a status quo that was brutally oppressive to all but a very few.
Because the Kingdom Jesus revealed puts oppressors and tyrants out of power wherever it is boldly proclaimed.
And there are many people (myself included) who benefit from oppression and tyranny much more than it hurts us. This leads to the attitude of “I have mine, that’s all I care about.” And that attitude is human sin.
The sinful hanging-on to the status quo sent Jesus to the cross. And humanity is crucified every minute of every day because of the sinful hanging-on to an economic, social, political, etc. status quo that literally takes away life, every single day through starvation, poverty, domestic violence, lynchings, war. It also causes symbolic death – death of human dreams for a better world, death of the human spirit, death of neighborliness, death of justice, death of peace.
So this is what I do know: Christ is especially present in “the least of these” – the poor, oppressed, orphans, widows, dispossessed. This means that Christ dies every single day because of my sin. Not my sin alone, but I play a part in it.
Now, that’s not the end of the story. Forgiveness, grace, and hope necessarily accompany the reality of sin, keeping us sane and enabling us to live out our callings joyfully. Oh, and of course, resurrection.
But there are serious costs to human sin. Sometimes we need to stick with the cold, hard reality of the cross of Christ, and the reality that when we send one another to the cross we are sending Christ to the cross as well.
These are the words that were used to end the Ash Wednesday service at ECM a few months ago. The language is traditional, but it means just as much today as ever:
“Almighty God, who has taught us in the life and teaching of your son the way of true blessedness, and has shown us in his suffering and death that the path of love and the call of justice may lead to a cross; give us grace to learn these hard lessons, to take up our cross and follow Christ, in strength, in patience, and constancy of faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”