Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Did Christ Die?

Palm Sunday could be renamed in the Episcopal Church "Schizophrenic Sunday." It starts with liturgy and songs about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for his ultimate showdown with the authorities of His day. And within about twenty minutes we are already nailing Him to the cross to endure shame and a cruel death. How quickly we are going from cheers to jeers in an attempt to make sure people get Holy Week in a single service!

This is one of the most sobering times in the lives of Christians who are observing this lead up to Easter Sunday. We are faced with the uncomfortable reality that the man we revere as the Son of God was crucified because, as the evangelist John notes, people will turn away from the light and retreat to darkness. We are more likely to run away from love and allow our fears to dominate us. We seem more drawn to death than to life.

The question, "Why did Christ die?" was the way our rector began his sermon on Sunday following the lengthy Passion gospel lesson. I would update this question to ask, "Why does Christ continue to die?" In what ways do we continue to turn away from the message of Love and light to embrace fear and darkness as "the way" we will carry on in the world? 

My atheist and non-Christian friends are often quick to point out the hypocrisy of Christians when something such as Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act gets put into law with the presumption that people of faith, specifically Christian business owners, feel they must be protected from the advancement of equality for the LGBTQ community. "Love thy neighbor" becomes a hollow platitude when there is an asterisk added and fine print that says, "Unless, for religious reasons, you can't possibly offer services to this neighbor or that neighbor." It also undermines the very act of love that Christ committed in taking the risk of entering Jerusalem, knowing that there were those who were looking to have him killed. What made Christ such a threat was his willingness to keep widening the circle of who was the neighbor, who was included in the vision of the kingdom. And--lo and behold--that circle included many of the most despised by the "religious majority" of his day. I would have to think that if the Jesus of Nazareth were to appear in our country in this 21st Century, he'd be appalled by the ways people are using His name to defend their biases and prop up the institutions that continue to oppress people. And He may be forced to throw His hands up in the air and ask the same question:

"Why did I die?" 

Certainly He didn't die so that we could continue to find new ways to draw up distinctions between "us" and "them." And I'm unwilling to think that because we persist in being punitive in our relationships with each other that this is somehow a failure of Christ, a failure of God. One of the reasons I think it's important for us as Christians to attend Holy Week services is to allow ourselves to experience the vulnerability of Christ in His final moments, and know that even though he was weakened and hung up on a tree like a common criminal, He burst those bonds of death to be resurrected into a major force to be reckoned with and that has endured centuries of good times and bad times, but still lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of people. A member of the EfM group that I mentor shared an email of a story of a hill in Lithuania where there are hundreds and hundreds of crosses. It started in 1831 to remember those Poles and Lithuanians who died in an uprising against the Russian czar. During the era of Communist rule in the Soviet Union, the Soviets bulldozed the hill three times. 

Each time, pilgrims restored the crosses in defiance of government leaders who had outlawed religion. It exists today in the bravery of Christians in war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa where there are threats against their property and their lives every day. And still, they keep the faith that comes from knowing the resurrected Christ. These are the Christians who know the real dangers of having your religious liberty threatened.

Why do we keep killing Christ? Why do we, who profess our faith in Christ, refuse to live and love as He loved us? 

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