This weekend we join Christians around the world in entering into Holy Week. In our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday we will, through words, music and movement, follow Jesus from his triumphal entry into the holy city Jerusalem to the suffering of the cross. The change in mood will be stark, the emotion jarring. We are called to follow, to experience the cross. Throughout Holy Week we are also called to enter into the story. We will do this through the Stations of the Cross, foot washing, stripping the altar and solemn Good Friday prayer.
The Passion stories of the Gospels, and in particular this year’s account from Luke, are full of emotion. The story is raw, filled with betrayal, doubt, desperation, injustice and cowardice. They are more than anything else, dramatically human. But as I read and reread Luke’s story I am struck with one question. This question paralyzes me. It makes me want look away, to not see what is happening to Jesus. That questions is why. Why does Jesus have to die? Why is the system so bent on silencing him? Why does Jesus go so willingly? Why do the disciples, his friends, forsake him? Why? Why? Why?
Much ink, and no small amount of blood has been spilled, trying to answer this why question. Some scholars have written at great length of the death of Jesus as sacrifice. Still others have written as Jesus as the great moral exemplar. Most in the very early church saw Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory over the devil. The gospels themselves, though, say very little about the theological significance of Jesus’ death. Jesus himself also says next to nothing about why he must die. I think the reason for this is that the mystery of the cross, the multi layered meaning of the cross, dare I say the scandal and the horror of the cross is just too much to be explained in any one theory. The cross is a mystery to be entered into, to be experienced, not simply something to be explained. More on that later.
If you read carefully the story that Luke weaves (and you can read the whole passion story here), he does have Jesus give us a hint as to why this is happening.
“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
For you. Jesus tells his disciples that his death, his broken body and spilled blood is for them. This too is a mystery too deep to fathom and raises more questions than it answers. But for now it is enough to say that in the cross, in the suffering and death of Jesus we see love as God gives God’s life, for us. God takes our biggest fear, death, and lays it bare. In Jesus God shows us the truly difficult way of love, forgiveness and acceptance. In the cross we see that God is for us, always for us, and not against us.
Which leads me to another question that I eluded to earlier regarding experiencing the cross. Can I follow? Now I don’t mean literally. I don’t expect us to go out and get crucified, or lethally injected, which would be the modern equivalent. But if Jesus is showing us something of love, something of what it looks like and what it cost, I have to ask: can I follow? Can we follow? Sara Miles says it’s as if in the cross “Jesus says: this is how you do it.” This is how you love. This is how you serve. This is how you follow me. Can we do it? Can we pick up our cross and follow?
The answer I believe is yes. Yes we will fall. Yes we will doubt. Yes, like the disciples we will run away, and abandon. But like Jesus we will love; like Jesus we will forgive; like Jesus we will care. We will do it because he has shown us how. We will do it as we love each other. We will do it as we welcome the stranger, whether they be from Syria, Eritrea or down the street. We will do it as we work for equality and justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We will do it as we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and lonely, and care for all prisoners.
So this week let the story of the cross become our story. Don’t look away but enter in. Experience the great emptying of God. Feel the darkness and the earth fracture beneath our feet. Then, ever so gently, pick up our crosses and follow him.