We have come to the crowning weekend of the Christian year. This weekend people will gather for worship on Thursday to tell the story of a leaders who washes the feet of his friends. People will gather on Friday to tell the story of a man who was so passionate about, so committed to, his vision of the world that he willingly went to his death. And then people will gather on Sunday to tell the story of a God who overrides the wishes of the world, who shouts a glorious and triumphant YES in the face of the world that said NO.
It is the heart of Christian faith, this Easter celebration. It is when we proclaim that life defeats death, that hope defeats despair, that light overcomes the darkness. Easter, the reality of resurrection is what creates our faith. And yet it is a celebration that raises questions.
Every year about this time someone somewhere starts a discussion by asking something like “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”. One common answer in Christian thought is that Jesus had to die to save us, to pay the price for our sins. This suggests that the whole reason Jesus is born is not so much to teach and preach but to be a willing sacrifice. The true effect of Easter then seems to be accomplished as much in the death as in God's act to defy that death.
Some of us, however, find that answer troubling. At least one author has gone so far as to suggest that a God who sends God's own Son just to be murdered is guilty of divine child abuse. Some of us find it hard to believe that this is how God works. And so I find myself wondering if maybe Easter as we know it was in fact Plan B.
During the last week of his life Jesus told a story about a hopeful landowner and the tenants who defeated his hope. You can read it for yourself, Luke 20:9-18. A common understanding of that parable is that the landowner is God. God who has sent many messengers to remind people who they could be. God who sends one last messenger. But even then the messenger is rejected and murdered by the tenants who think they have a better way.
Maybe God's hope was that Jesus would be the prophet that caused the world to be transformed through his teaching and preaching. Maybe the hope was that Jesus' preaching that the Kingdom of God is here now would take hold and become a full reality. Maybe the hope never included torture and execution.
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died because the world is NOT what God would have it be. Jesus died because when you are bold (some might say foolish) enough to challenge the authorities in the world they will push back. Jesus died because God's hope did not pan out, because the people of Jesus' day did not launch the great transformation that Jesus proclaimed. And so the powers around Jesus brought him down and executed him as a traitor, a brigand, a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser. The killed him because he threatened to upset the system. Did Jesus expect to be murdered? If he understood the system and the challenge he was to that system he must have known the system would kill him.
Many of Jesus' friends must have believed that the cross was the end of the story. Jesus must not have been the Messiah they thought he was, there was no concept of a Messiah who would die on a cross. Decades later Paul refers to the problem of Jesus' death by calling it a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. The story was over, the hope was gone, the light was extinguished.
Enter God, Stage Right.
The plan has not worked. So we need another plan. And God chooses to act. God chooses to raise Jesus from death. God chooses to prove that God's YES is more powerful than the world's NO.
This is the glory of Easter. We continue to live in a world that falls short of God's hope, that is not yet what God would have us be. But God continues to say YES, it is possible. The power of Easter is not shown on Friday. Friday only reminds us that we continue to block God's hope. The power of Easter is when people of faith experience the Risen Christ. The power of Easter is in life, not death.
It may not have been the original plan. But God took the failure of the world and turned it on its head. And God continues to do that. Thanks be to God! Happy Easter!