When I was a pastor-in-training at Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, IN, I was asked to plan and lead a Good Friday service. I quickly felt in way over my head. More than that, I felt spiritually and emotionally dispirited and disconnected, even angry. So much of Christian theology and accompanying worship liturgies and hymns make God out to be a sadist who inflicted punishment and Jesus a masochist who willingly endured suffering. Would it be possible to plan a service in a way that didn’t glorify suffering and steered clear of the suggestion that salvation requires blood and sacrifice? And was it even ok for this pastor-in-training to ask such questions?
At that time I was reading an article written by one of my seminary professors Mary Schertz called God’s Cross and Women’s questions: A Biblical perspective on the atonement. “To use any image of death and destruction,” Schertz writes, “as a root metaphor for Christian faith, no matter how clothed in piety of theological language, raises issues for any group of people who have internalized negative self-understandings… Frequently—to their own detriment—women have internalized the motifs of suffering that have sometimes been glorified in Christian faith and have accepted suffering as their lot.” (This article was published in Mennonite Quarterly Review 68, 1994)
Fast forward 15 years, and some days I still feel like a pastor-in-training as I struggle to articulate my theological understanding of the cross and Jesus for that matter. I still feel dispirited at times sifting through the varied theologies and reflections, especially related to Holy Week. Again and again, I find myself returning to Schertz’s writings:
“The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was not a realm founded upon or maintained by violence. The death of Jesus, then, was inevitable only because it constituted an act of integrity within the framework of his commitment to the reign of God which he proclaimed.”
In other words, the death of Jesus was and is salvific because it was part of how Jesus proclaimed and enacted God’s non-violent love in the world. Jesus was so committed to an alternative way of living that even when people resisted him, he went forward anyway refusing to violently resist those people who violently opposed him. The question for us then becomes what does it mean to follow this Jesus? What alternative ways of living are made possible by Jesus, or made possible through the church?
I will have a copy of Schertz’s article in the Sanctuary this coming Friday, along with other Good Friday prayers and readings. Feel free to spend time there reflecting, praying, or simply sitting alone in silence anytime between 9 am-9 pm. And don’t forget about our Maundy Thursday agape meal from 6:30-8 pm. Please RSVP by clicking here. We will hear the story of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, share in communion around the tables, sing some hymns, and enjoy a meal of soup of bread. And perhaps each table can spend some time discussing these Holy Week questions/observations offered by our young congregants. Better yet, there will be a young person at each table leading such a discussion!
Dear Sr.-in-Law Ruth:
Amen!… on the glorification of blood sacrifice as “the reason for the (Easter) season.”
It may be we’ll never know why Jesus chose–and I use that word deliberately–to take the path of crucifixion until we are up in the great beyond, but I have my own theory. Actually, my suspicion is there may have been multiple reasons, but… the one that stands out in my mind is the lesson in forgiveness. Jesus hung there on the cross and publicly forgave the very people who were killing him… an example for us, I believe. Forgiveness is SOOOOOooooooo important to being God-like, since God is the all-time Big Forgiver–is He not?
Another possible reason for this “choice” of Jesus.. to my way of thinking.. is that it was a way to solidify in people’s minds the reality of life after death. The very public death which crucifixion provided, coupled with his resurrection a few days later, changed the world, I believe. Life after death was not a given in Jewish religious life, at the time. This demonstration gave folks a reason to live as though there was something more to life than this material life, alone. Which, I think, was helpful. But.. That’s just me, and… I haven’t been to seminary or anything, so… :-).
But yes… let’s definitely dispense with any talk of an angry God who demanded a blood sacrifice. We know better, don’t we? That’s not the kind of Father that Christ revealed to us.