Saturday, April 7, 2007

What the Death of Jesus does mean...

Good Friday
April 6, 2007
“What the death of Jesus does mean”
The Rev. Sare Gordy

Jesus died. He was executed by the state. And his followers were left, not only to continue on the good work he’d begun, but also, they were left with the nagging questions that still linger today, even after the moving hymns have been sung about being washed in the blood of Jesus, even after stirring sermons and moving lectures about atonement, becoming one, right with God through this sacrifice of one man who was more than man, who was God. Even after thousands of years, if only on this day, we’re still left with the painful question: why?


At the time that question was answered with this idea that Jesus was really some holy sacrifice made to God, because that idea made a lot of sense to them. To be a Jew at the time meant that you’re relationship to God and to the moral norms of your society were mitigated by literally, the live animal or food sacrifices you made at the one Temple in the one location, Jerusalem, which is where God lived. And if you were a Gentile, which is to say, if you were a Roman, you also had to make sacrifices – live animal and food – to which ever God you were devoted to, or to which ever God was in charge of your present situation., and you had to do this to get anywhere in life. Everything from a victory in war to a successful family and home life. So, this idea was not a foreign one – making a sacrifice to get something (like the Romans) or making a sacrifice to be forgiven for something (like the Jews). This idea was not foreign – to them.

But for those for whom the Christian rhetoric of atonement rings hollow, for those for whom the question ‘why?’ still lingers unassuaged at the back of our minds, this idea of atonement …is foreign.

And so, let us return to the beginning. Jesus died. He was executed by the state. By the Roman Empire. Why did they execute him? Because he was a threat. Why was he a threat? Because he preached a compelling message of compassion. It was non-violent. It was transformational. It deeply valued every single human being, no exceptions, none at all. It had an ethic of economics – what you should do with your money and what you should not. It had an ethic of non-violence – don’t carry a staff when you go out and if someone hits you, turn the other cheek and let them hit you again. It had an ethic of reconciliation – forgiving debts, forgiving trespasses, forgiving betrayals, forgiving sins, forgiving pasts, forgiving and moving on. He preached that this was not just some pie-in-they-sky morality, but that living this way was GOOD. It cause joy! It was LIFE, all that is good about life, and it was abundant. This message, this good news that Jesus preached about was POPULAR! Loads of people were getting on board this bandwagon, and that did not endear it to the Empire. So, when Jesus started a riot in the marketplace of the Temple, that was that.

But, you know, it’s my opinion that, at least in the metaphorical sense, Jesus didn’t really die at the hands of the Empire until 313 of the Common Era. That is when the movement of Jesus (that we call Early Christianity, or the Early Church) was officially ‘tolerated’ by the Roman Empire, under Constantine. Soon after that, it became the official religion of the Empire.

The movement that was foundationally NON-VIOLENT was taken in by the most clinically violent empire in the ancient world. And it was not the empire that changed.

The movement that deeply valued every human being as inherently equal and beloved of God was taken in by one of the most legally stratified societies of the ancient world – segregated by citizenship, by wealth, by gender, by patronage, or political power, by freedom – that is, slavery was a common practice, and by religion. And it was not the empire that changed.

The movement that had such a strong ethic of reconciliation, that valued peace, but only so long as it came from forgiveness, was taken in by the empire that had long perfected the art of peace – the Pax Romana – but it was peach through victory, not forgiveness. And it was no the empire that changed.

The Roman Empire did not know compassion, it knew power, which is why, when faced with Jesus of Nazareth, it crucified him, and which is why when faced with Christianity, it absorbed it, and declared the Emperor the final arbiter of any disputes, and thus the empire finally managed to silence the annoying prophet-messiah.

Or did they?

No comments: