A sermon preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church. Laurens, SC, on Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Why did Jesus die?
If Jesus was a mere mortal, then the crucifixion would make sense. Jesus, in his life and ministry, proclaiming a kingdom of God of unconditional and impartial love and justice for all, so angered and threatened the political and religious power elite, who, in the desperation of self-preservation, destroyed him.
But the crucifixion of the Son of God – who did not have to be borne in and brought forth from a woman’s womb or be raised like any other Jewish boy or endure a public ministry of impossible demand or experience the tribulation of his final days, praying to God, “If it is possible, let this cup (of suffering) pass from me”(1) or end condemned as a common criminal – does not make sense. Makes no sense. Is nonsense!
At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his adversaries, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will not send me more than twelve legions of angels?”(2) Earlier, during his ministry, referring to himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus declared: “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down on my own accord”?(3)
No. Jesus didn’t have to die. So, why?
Perhaps that favorite word of gospel comfort gives us some insight: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.(4)
Still, this seems simple. Too simple. Even superficial. Yes, God loves us, thus, saves us. But God could have planned a less painful, yet no less loving redemption than the crucifixion of the Son of God. God could have pronounced divine pardon over us, then, with divine power, compelled us to be “truly sorry and humbly repent.”(5)
Even more, if the Son of God came to us in person, then why “robed” in meek, weak human flesh? Why not in the might of the King of kings, the majesty of the Lord of lords?
Still more, if God willed the Son of God to die, then why in an undignified, disgraceful death?
Only God knows. For we mortals, in contemplating the crucifixion and God’s love, always are fundamentally uncomprehending. We don’t, can’t understand all of it.
Nevertheless, contemplating the crucifixion in the light of our experience of our lives, we know that we will endure everything for the sake of love. If, when we love passionately and powerfully enough, we will risk our mortal lives for our beloved.
So, it was then and is always with God. God, Who is Love, is not content with some perfunctory, prescriptive, even painless pardon for the sins of the world. God longs to seek and save us by living with us up close and personal and dying as we do.
This, all this, is why Jesus died. So that we are no longer at odds with God. We are reunited to God, reconciled with God. A reunion, a reconciliation that allows us to go to Golgotha not only on Good Friday, but daily. Daily to die to our sin of enslavement to our selfish self-interest, so to be free to give ourselves in service with others. Thus, to know, to live, to fulfill the meaning of Jesus’ word: To save life is to lose it, to lose life for my sake and for the gospel is to save it forever.(6)
(1) Matthew 26.39a, Mark 14.36a
(2) Matthew 26.53
(3) John 10.18
(4) John 3.16
(5) From Confession of Sin, The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, The Book of Common Prayer, page 331
(6) My paraphrase of Matthew 16.25, Mark 8.35, Luke 9.24, 17.33
Illustration: Detail of Crucifixion (1894), Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1831-1894)