Tag Archives: crucifixion

Stations of the Gospel. Good Friday reflections through Luke.

Begin

Setup: This is the first station. It should be found just inside the door. The rest of the stations can lead through hallways toward the sanctuary of the church. Signs clearly marking the numbers of the stations, and arrows to assist people will be helpful.

Find a copy of Bach’s Magnicat in D Major. It is readily available on youtube. Set it up to play loud enough to be able to hear for several stations.

Instructions:

Playing in this room right now is Bach’s Magnificat in D Major. This triumphal and haunting music was inspired by Mary’s song as found in Luke. The word magnificat is Latin for magnify, which is the traditional first line of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

The piece is about 30 minutes, and will be playing on continual loop.  You may sit and listen for as long as you would like.

Luke 1:39-55

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm.

He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Rest One: Baptism

Setup: Place a bowl of water on a small table. Consider saying a prayer over the water, perhaps from the baptism liturgy, or just a simple word of thanks for the water of life and blessing for all who pass through during this exercise.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Luke 3:3,  10-11, 21-22

John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is aclaim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.

Rest Two: Life and Ministry

Setup: Print this picture, which are available under Wikimedia Commons bread and fish

Instructions

Look on the back page of this booklet. This is a picture of one of the earliest forms of Christian art. The fish, not the cross, was the first symbol of Christianity.

Luke 9:10-17

 When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick.

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.”(They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus  from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”

Rest Three: Prediction

Luke 9:18-23

Setup: A chalkboard or pad with newsprint and markers. This should be placed right outside the door of the sanctuary. This is the last rest station before entry into the sanctuary. Last year, we left the board up for Easter Sunday.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.”

He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.”

Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.”

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.

Reflection

Notice this story comes immediately after the feeding. People have noticed that there is something incredible about Jesus. He is clearly a man worth following, but he wanted to make sure they understood the cost. Following Jesus is not just about overflowing baskets and great wonders.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. It was not an easy thing for the disciples to hear, and it is clear that while Jesus lived, they never fully understood.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Rest Four – Sunday: Entry

Setup: On a table near the back of the sanctuary, leave a couple of palm branches from Palm Sunday’s service and place a couple of rocks.

Luke 19:35-42a

They brought [the donkey] to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on his of all days the things that lead to peace.”

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus taught the people what peace looks like. It looks like aligning your heart and your actions. It looks like letting go of materialism. It looks like letting go of bitterness. Peace is not an easy journey. The Pharisees wanted to keep quiet in the name of what they called peace, but “true peace is not the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.” In one moment Jesus is a part of a wave of celebration. In the next, he weeps, for he knows the cost of true peace, and he knows the people will not tread that path.

Instructions:

On the table is the palm branch and the stone. Even while we yearn for peace, are we willing to cry out? What story of justice, mercy, kindness, or sacrifice is within you? Can you hold it in? Will even this stone cry out if you don’t?

Rest Five – Monday: Confrontation

Setup: On another table, place a bowl or offering plate with a few coins in it. This station asks people to leave some money behind. Someone should check it periodically so as to remove the temptation of someone taking money from the unattended dish.

Luke 20:20-26

The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.

Reflection

In the Gospel of Luke especially, Jesus is deeply concerned with our relationship with money. It was after Jesus disrupted the commerce of the Temple that the leaders decided that they had to kill Jesus. Here, he affirms all of their fears.

In front of you are a handful of coins. Those who wanted to be rid of Jesus tried to use money to trap him. It didn’t work. How many of us who follow Jesus however, are trapped by our money? Some social critics have said, “We print ‘In God We Trust,’ upon the god in which we trust.” How much truth is in this statement?

Instructions:

If you so desire, you may leave some money here (the plate will be checked periodically so as large amounts of cash will not be left unattended). Whatever is left here will be given to the church’s Samaritan Fund, which helps local people in emergency need.

Rest Six – Thursday: Supper

Setup: Place chairs around the Lord’s table, leave a broken loaf of bread and a cup (or several small cups) of grape juice. In our setting, the Table was stripped on Thursday night, so this quite easily accomplished.

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

Luke 22:14-23

When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.   I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving 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.”In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.

“But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.

Rest Seven – Thursday: Denial

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Luke 22:54-71

After they arrested Jesus, they led him away and brought him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed from a distance. When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, “This man was with him too.”

But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”

A little while later, someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.”

But Peter said, “Man, I’m not!”

An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.”

Peter responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.

The men who were holding Jesus in custody taunted him while they beat him. They blindfolded him and asked him repeatedly, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Insulting him, they said many other horrible things against him.

As morning came, the elders of the people, both chief priests and legal experts, came together, and Jesus was brought before their council.

They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us!”

He answered, “If I tell you, you won’t believe. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on, the Human One will be seated on the right side of the power of God.”

They all said, “Are you God’s Son, then?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need further testimony? We’ve heard it from his own lips.”

Rest Eight – Friday: On the Cross

Setup: Lay down a bowl full of nails. I bought the largest ones I could get from the hardware store. They are really better described as spikes.

Luke 23:32-43

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Reflection

There was not just one cross on Calvary. There were three. Jesus was hung next to two nameless men.  We only catch a glimpse of them at this, the worst possible moment. One joins the crowd and insults and mocks the man next to him. The other seeks peace, even in the midst of agony.

One cross gave us a savior. Three crosses gave us a church. Following Jesus does not take away the pain of the world. Our life journey will always be a struggle. We can choose to respond with anger and bitterness, or we can seek grace and healing. Always, Jesus will meet us with forgiveness and love.

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen bitterness and anger, pick up a nail. Say a prayer of confession. Lay your burdens down at the Cross.

Rest Nine – Friday: Death

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand or wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Jesus came so that we may have life. He came to tear down walls and divisions which we are quick to build. He came to feed and heal. He came with forgiveness and grace. His power was not war or coercion. It was love. He died not because God needed him dead, but because we could not let him live. The World could not understand his power, so the Romans nailed him to a cross because they thought that would be his end.  They believed that the humiliation, shame, and death that came with the cross would erase Jesus of Nazareth forever.

Luke 23:44-49

 It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.

When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved. On that hour on that day, the world embraced the dark. Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming…

The Stations of the Gospel through Mark

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Thursday-Friday devotional, part 8

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
SCRIPTURE

People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “ Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!”

In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”

After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”

REFLECTION

“My God, My God, why have you left me?” I’ve wondered the same thing.  “Why?” is a common question that is posed to God.  All too often the answer is left unanswered.  Some may find it disconcerting to think of Jesus asking this question while on the cross.  How can God abandon Jesus?  If they are one in the same, how is this possible?

Tomes have been written on the subject by people more learned and articulate than me.    So we discover another “Why” question in the midst of the ultimate “Why?”  There are a lot of explanations to Jesus’ cry.  Whole sects and heresies have risen and fallen based on different answers to this question.  In seminary, this is the part of the class that started throwing out words like “Neo-Platanism, Gnostics, and Arianism.”  This was the part of the class that my eyes got glossy, and I longed for the next coffee break.

I value my seminary education, and cherish every moment I spent immersed in the transformative learning that I experienced in seminary, yet I admit I am no Biblical scholar.  I would fail miserably as a seminary professor.

I speak only as a man of faith when I say that Jesus’ cry on the cross haunts me and comforts me.  It is both a great source of humility and a source of strength.  For one, I know the Psalm which Jesus is quoting.  When he cries out “Why have you left me?” he is quoting Psalm 22.  It is as if he is shouting out the title of a song, which starts with loss, isolation, and abandonment, but ends with assurance, comfort, and victory.

It is entirely possible that in Jesus’ last cry the whole of the Psalm is captured.  And thus, the whole of Jesus’ mission.  It is a call forward, not just of despair, but of promise that out of despair God will raise us up.  Psalm 22 is a promise to all generations, to the future people of God that God will be present.  Given the fact that crucifixion is meant to wipe out one’s future legacy, this is a bold statement.  To claim Psalm 22 is to claim the promise of God even in the midst of apparent loss.

I also feel though, that I have to be careful to not read too much into Jesus’ cry.  It is, on surface, a cry of lamentation.  I have to ask myself, is it okay to leave it that way?  Is it okay to leave Jesus on the cross alone and forsaken?  Is it okay to leave Jesus a man that is facing his own mortality as any other man would?  Is it okay to have a Savior that was that vulnerable?  Is it okay to let Jesus be abandoned?

When I have fallen on my knees in shame, when I have pounded the ground in despair, when I have let myself be vulnerable, only to be taken advantage of and wounded, when I have screamed at the top of my lungs in agony, is it okay?  There is a part of me that finds it reassuring to know that Jesus is not high up on a cross, dying with quiet dignity, above the fray.  I am comforted in knowing that when I am at my lowest, Jesus is there too.  When I feel beaten, battered, and bruised, I pray to a God who knows what I feel.  I pray to a God that has died with me.  When I scream at God in despair, I know that I do so in good company.  I am not going to be offered easy answers.  I am simply going to have a Savior that wraps his arms around me and whispers, “I am with you.”  And I will know that he speaks from experience.

PRAYER

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? It is a question I have asked before, and if I am honest, it is one I will surely ask again.  Even in my asking I know that it will never really be true.  Even in my struggle I know that you are always present, and for that I am forever grateful.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 7

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to Easter.
SCRIPTURE

Mark 15:16-28.  The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!”

Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.  Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross.

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it. They crucified him. They divided up his clothes, drawing lots for them to determine who would take what. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left

REFLECTION

Crucifixion was more than a death penalty.  It was total annihilation.  The purpose of crucifixion was to remove a person from existence.  By stripping a man naked, flogging him until he was covered with blood, hanging him on public display along a popular path, the Roman authorities knew that the one crucified would be wiped from consciousness.  Those crucified were made permanently unclean.  

No one could touch them from the moment they were hung, and yet no one could turn away.  Adam Hamilton, in his gripping Bible study 24 Hours that Changed the World, explains that one being crucified was not hanging high, isolated from those passing by.  The elevation of the cross, he claims, was actually only about 9 feet.  Jesus’ head would have been lower than a basketball hoop.  His majority of his naked, beaten, bloody, body would have been at eye level.

The humiliation of this death was complete.  It was meant to rob a person not only of his present life, but of his past and of his future.  There would be no legacy for those crucified.  The pain was such that memory would be purged.  The words and deeds of the crucified could not be remembered.  The loved ones and relatives of the crucified one would never claim him.  Crucifixion was a physical, emotional, and spiritual death.

This is what Jesus faced.  The Gospel of Mark does not soften the blow.  There are no redemptive words of forgiveness, as we have in Luke.  There is no tender moment of compassion, nor determined strength of a man carrying his own cross, as we have in John.  There is only a man too weak to carry on.  There is a only a man that is hung with outlaws, spat on and mocked.  There is no dignity in this death.  There is nothing good on this Friday.

On some level, this needs to be the message of Good Friday.  Allow that irony in that name sink in.  Allow the questions.  Allow the sadness.  Allow the reality of injustice hit you with all of its force.  The world is broken, and there is no greater evidence to that fact than the cross on Golgotha where a man was led to die.  God was made flesh, and we crucified him.  That is all we need to know about the human condition.

PRAYER

My soul cries out to thee, O Lord.  Out of the depths do I cry.  The injustice of this world is crippling.  It is paralyzing.  When I ponder for a moment the injustice and cruelty that people are capable, it causes me to tremble.  Tremble.  Tremble.  I seek no quick fixes or easy answers.  I seek only comfort and a promise that this is not the end of the story. Amen.

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“With,” not “For”

Christians love the phrase, “Jesus died for me.”  I can’t help but feel like the overuse of that phrase has led to a lot of problems.  The idea that Jesus died for my sins is certainly Biblical, and it has been the cry of Christians, Protestants especially, for many generations.  I don’t feel like I have to explain the idea of sacrificial theology too much because it is so prevelant, but here goes:  We are sinful and a just God needs redemption.  Instead of retribution, God sent Jesus, who was sinless, to be the sacrifice for the world.  There is more to it than this, and most Christians have heard this story a thousand times.  Jesus died for me because I am sinner and I need to be saved.

I have come to realize how problematic this type of thinking can be.  For one, it is incredibly selfish.  Yes, it is important to realize that God seeks out individuals.  God loves every part of God’s creation and yearns for a relationship with all of us, even you and especially me.  But if the language is all “my sins, my savior, my God,” you end up with a very small god, and a very limited idea of salvation.  The “we” is sacrificed on the altar of “me.”  As a result such important ideas like the communion of saints, systematic sin, and communal confession are lost.  Sin is reduced individal moral failing, and Jesus is reduced to a self-help guru.  (Many Christians charge other with making Jesus into a glorified teacher, but these people often make Jesus into a glorified Dr. Phil with magic tricks).

Secondly, the constant chorus that “Jesus died for me” is the first step toward a serious faith conflict.  Let me explain: If I believe that Jesus died for me, then I expect Jesus to hang on the cross for all of my sins.  Jesus is the one suffering, and I respond with tremendous gratitude because I know it could have been me on that cross.  After all, I’m kind of a jerk.  So I sing songs like “Take me to the Cross,” which thanks Jesus for stepping in and taking my punishment for me.  I adore Jesus, but am not so sure about that Father, who felt an uncontrollable desire to punish someone.  So I live my life, thankful that Jesus took away my suffering.  But then something funny happens: I suffer.

I lose a loved one, or I am diagnosed with cancer, or my child is sent to war, or I take seriously the fact that the suffering of one is the suffering of all and I see that children in Africa are dying of AIDS and boys are being kidnapped, given cocaine and machine guns to kill their parents.  So now I am faced with suffering, but all along I believed that Jesus died for me.  Now what am I supposed to do?  Jesus must not have suffered for me, because here I am doing plenty of it myself.  Yeah, Jesus might have had it worse, but this is pretty bad.  So I can either clench my jaw and think, “Well, Jesus died for me to save me from eternal punishment, but he doesn’t do much for me now;” or worse, I think, “Jesus abandoned me.”  I am left with nothing but despair.

Does this seem over-simplified?  Maybe, but I am convinced that only believing “Jesus died for me,” results in despair when faced with real-life suffering.  So what do we have?  There is another Biblical idea, one that Jesus himself believed when he told his disciples to “Take up your cross and follow me.”  The idea is that Jesus died with me.

If Jesus died with me, then Jesus is there on the cross with me.  I am still suffering.  Jesus did not take that away, and God did not put me there to satisfy some divine blood-lust.  I recognize that this world is broken.  There are biological, political, economic, and environmental forces that are outside of God’s direct control and make us suffer.  There are sins that are greater than individual moral failures.  Because of these things, we will suffer.  So when I am faced with tragedy, I know that Jesus is with me.  Instead of despair I have hope.

What makes the Christian unique is not that Jesus suffers for us, but the comfort that comes with the knowledge that Jesus suffers with us.  We know we are not alone.  We know that Jesus is there for us through the darkest days, and that God the Father is not seeking ways to punish us, but sought, and found, the perfect way to comfort us.

If we hold only to the fact that “Jesus died for us,” then the story ends on the cross.  If the story of Jesus is that he had to die for us to take our punishment away, then the resurrection is nothing more than an interesting postscript.  If Jesus’ only mission was to die for us, then the mission was accomplished on the cross.  But Paul tells us that we die Jesus’ death and share Jesus’ resurrection.  When we suffer, we know that is not the end of the story.  We know we have hope in the one that died, and was resurrected, and lives eternally with God.

So in this, my first post that is explicitly about God, I offer you this: Jesus did not simply die for you; Jesus died with you, and you will rise with Jesus.  Suffering will surely come, but know that the suffering comes with the hope of the Resurrected One.  May God’s peace and the hope of Jesus Christ be with you.

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