In recent years, this would have been a big week for me. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. For a few years, the town’s musicians, especially the high school students would do a Dixieland Jazz style concert on Saturday at our church. And then there was Easter Sunday with a Sunrise Service, breakfast, Egg Hunt, and Sunday School. Then we had the big worship service where attendance would be high and we’d wear our best clothes and play our best music and I’d give my best effort at preaching.
This year, I thought I’d quietly skip the whole thing. But I can’t.
To begin, Good Friday is problematic for me. It has been for a while but I couldn’t articulate what agitated me.
Tonight a few preachers will give graphic descriptions of Jesus’ physical suffering, turning it into a CSI episode. I hasten to say, however, that most preachers will be more restrained in their presentation. Nonetheless, people will weep, often tapping into recent, more personal grief. Many will also tap into the general guilt and anxiety most of us carry within, and they’ll find themselves feeling personally responsibility for Jesus’ suffering.
Our doctrine encourages that.
I ignored my inner conflict and I played my part. Some years, I played the part of Jesus in church musicals and reenacted the crucifixion scenes. Most years for Good Friday service, I’d have someone bang a hammer against metal to make people think of the nails driven in Jesus’ hands and feet. Or I’d have people come forward and hammer their own nails into a cross. But my last group was too sensitive for that and it caused them too much pain. So I modified the ritual and had people come to the cross simply to touch it—that was powerful enough.
Nowadays, I’ve become clearer in my objection to the “Atonement Model,” as some theologians call it. It’s the explanation that Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. This concept goes back to the priest Martin Luther. Before him was the monk Anselm, and earlier still was Bishop Augustine. Most of their thoughts are developed from Pauline passages of scriptures. I understand how Paul, who reportedly murdered people for their faith, would be comforted by the thought that his sins were forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
But I have a problem with it. If God required a blood sacrifice to mollify his rage… well, it isn’t forgiveness, is it? I also have a problem with making everyone take responsibility for the actions of a murderous mob, some corrupt religious leaders, and two cowardly politicians of the day.
I have done some bad things for which I take responsibility but I did not murder Jesus, and I won’t carry that burden anymore. Nor will I put that burden on anyone else ever again. I’m not telling any more children that it was their fault. I’m not telling decent people who work hard and do good things, that they should carry such a monumental burden of shame.
I’m sorry that I did for so long.