It’s Holy Week.
For Christians, this is the most important week of the year.
Not that I want to start beef between Christmas and Easter. I love Christmas. It might be my favorite holiday. Although, Halloween is pretty high up there.
But 2,000 years ago, Good Friday and Easter started a revolution in our understanding of God.
I think we are still trying to catch up to the revolution.
… Jesus didn’t connect the reason for his suffering to God. Instead, he connected the reason for his suffering to humans.
If you are like me, you grew up with an idea that if we turn our backs on God that God will turn God’s back on us. And at some point, we have all turned out back on God. So, with this understanding, you never know where you stand with God.
The sin of Adam and Eve stains us all, I was told. And because of that, God’s holy and righteous wrath is directed against humanity. But Jesus came to take that wrath upon himself on Good Friday. This is good news because God isn’t wrathful at you anymore. But this only works if you believe it.
That’s probably the dominant understanding of the Atonement in Christianity today. But it didn’t arrive on the Christian scene until the 16th century with the Protestant reformers.
The earliest Atonement theory was developed in the New Testament and stems from Jesus himself.
In Luke 9:22, Jesus tells his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
I think it’s interesting that Jesus leaves God out of the explanation for his death. For example, why “must” Jesus undergo great suffering? Often times people insert God into the answer. “Well, Jesus must undergo suffering because God wants him to.”
But Jesus never says that.
In fact, Jesus didn’t connect the reason for his suffering to God. Instead, he connected the reason for his suffering to humans.
Jesus didn’t say that he was rejected by God. He said he was rejected by “the elders, chief priests, and scribes.”
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The Protestant understanding of the Atonement has become so embedded in my mind that I continually have to remind myself that God didn’t reject Jesus. The religious elite rejected Jesus.
But why did the religious elite reject Jesus?
Because he was making like John Lewis and causing some good trouble.
All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus going to the Temple to disrupt business as usual. He entered the Temple and Mark 11:15-18 tells us that Jesus,
began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
But you have made it a den of robbers.’
18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.
Jesus knew that the Temple was to be “a house of prayer for all the nations.” The phrase “all the nations” is a radically inclusive statement that essentially means “everyone.”
But the religious elite of Jesus’ day didn’t want “all the nations” to be included. Rather, they wanted the power to declare who was included and who was excluded. Who was worthy and who wasn’t worthy.
Stop me if this is sounding at all familiar.
Because unfortunately we still have religious gatekeepers today, declaring who is included and who is excluded.
Jesus entered into that system and sought to transform it. And the people who benefited from that system decided to kill him for it.
Jesus knew that he must undergo suffering and death, not because it was God’s plan, but because he knew that it is the age-old human plan for people who cause good trouble.
But what is God’s plan? In one of the first sermons in Christian history, Peter talks about the religious elite and says, “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day.”
God’s plan is not one that leads to violence and death. Rather, God’s plan leads to resurrection and new life.
Even on the cross of Good Friday and in the resurrection of Easter Sunday, Jesus never responds to his persecutors with the human plan of violence or death. Instead, he responds with God’s plan by offering words of forgiveness and peace.
And that’s why Holy Week is so important. It reveals a revolutionary understanding of God. Even when humans kill Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, Jesus comes back to offer forgiveness and peace as we continue taking the risk of causing good trouble.