This is from a Good Friday sermon I preached in 2009. I dug it up in response to a Facebook quesiton from friend Diana Butler Bass about preaching "other than atonenment" on Good Friday. (And now back to finishing GF_2013.)
“By his wounds we are healed.”
What exactly does that mean, anyway? How does what happened on a hill in Palestine in the first century have anything to do with what’s happening in Pasadena in the 21st? What are we reconciled to by his blood? How are we healed by his wounds?
There’s one answer to those questions that goes something like this – [with thanks to James Alison]:
God created the world and all was well. The first human beings lived in paradise until the day they broke the one commandment God had given them God was very angry and threw them out of paradise. Their descendents kept on being disobedient and God kept on being angry.
God was in a quandary. Part of him wanted to be merciful, but he could not deny that he was also just, and the continued sin was an affront to his very honor. And the problem was that human beings could never make up for what they had done. They just didn’t have it in them. And yet they had to do something.
So God decided to send his Son into the world as a human being. As a human being he could pay the price of sin, but since he was also God, that payment would be eternal. It would be enough to appease God’s anger. So Jesus died for our sins, took upon himself the price that we couldn’t pay and God wiped the slate clean. Now if any human being agrees to have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus, they are saved.
That’s one answer – one way of telling the story of how “by his wounds we are healed.”
And it is a way of telling the story has dominated in the church for almost 1,000 years. It has been so dominant that many Christians cannot imagine there is any other way of telling the story. But here’s a Good Friday News Flash: It is not the only way to understand the words “By his wounds we are healed.”
In fact, for the first 1,000 years of the church’s life there was a different way of telling the story dominated Christian theology – a different answer to the question. And the answer started with Jesus. And that answer goes like this:
When Jesus talked about his death he used this parable: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. For those first thousand years of the church’s life, Jesus’ death and resurrection were primarily about death, not about sin. Jesus died and then rose victorious from the grave.
The main story line (for the first 1000 of Christian faith) was not “Jesus died for our sins,” but “Jesus died to destroy the power of death.” After Jesus’ death and resurrection, humankind could live as if death were not. They could live healed from the fear of death.
There was no angry God; no atoning sacrifice. Instead there was the paradigmatic example of the One who loved us enough to become one of us not only to show us how to love one another but who loved us enough to die in order to rise again to heal us of our amnesia about the love of God so great that it transcends death. Even death on a cross.
“By his wounds we are healed.”
Jesus heals us because Jesus saves us from our fear. In penetrating the boundary between life and death Jesus assures us that the crossing over at the end of this earthly life is to something very real. With that assurance, Jesus saves us from the fear of death that is such an existential fear that it can paralyze us into trying to control the bits of life we can wrap our hands around rather than letting go to receive the abundance of life God would have us receive. His resurrection tells us that we need not live our life in fear of that crossing over and sets us free. And free from that fear we ARE liberated to embrace the abundant life that God has made known to us in Jesus. Jesus saves us from worrying so much about getting to heaven that we’re too paralyzed by fear to get busy helping to bring heaven to earth.
“By his wounds we are healed.”
We are healed because more important than the death Jesus died was the life Jesus lived – a life so in alignment with God’s will – God’s love – that he was “obedient even unto death.”
Not obedient to a vengeful God who sent Jesus as a blood sacrifice – to a death that was the inevitable result of humanity’s abject sinfulness for which we should still wallow in guilt and shame.
Rather, what is good about Good Friday is that Jesus was obedient to the love of a God so great that it enabled him to transcend the FEAR of death as he walked the way of the cross – as he chose to drink the cup he had been given even as he questioned up until the very last moment whether there wasn’t another way to accomplish the work he had been given to do.
I am always grateful for my friend, mentor and brother-priest Michael Hopkins – but this week I was especially grateful for him for this great summary of the Good News of Good Friday:
Jesus freely gave himself up to death and destroyed it once and for all. That means you and I don’t have to be afraid of death and part of that not-being-afraid is knowing ourselves to be forgiven. I hope you can see what a different way of telling the story that is from the crucifixion as satisfying the vengeance of an angry God. Of course you can find pieces of Scripture that support that way of telling the story, but the alternative way has as much support in Scripture -- as well as the thinking of the early church. At the end of the day, we get to decide which lens to use to read the story. And I choose to use the “victory over death” lens rather than the “satisfying the vengeance of God” lens.
And so do I. And so may you. Or not. That’s the beauty of being an Anglican – or at least that has historically been the beauty of being an Anglican.
Remember – whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, there is a place for you here. Here at the foot of this cross this Good Friday. Here at the altar rail on Easter Sunday. Here in the life and work and witness of All Saints Church.
The witness we have to offer the world – the witness we call turning the human race into the human family -- has nothing to do with some doctrinal litmus test. It has nothing to do with which story you choose to claim the power of cross in your own life and journey. Instead, it has everything to do with what Frederick Buechner names as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world.
The Good News this Good Friday is that we follow the One who proclaimed a love too radical, too inclusive, too dangerous to the status quo to survive without a struggle -- then or now. It is an amazing irony that the very Jesus who gave his life to show us how to love each other has had that message of reconciliation hijacked by those who would make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven about the Dictates of Doctrine rather than about the Lordship of Love.
The Good News this Good Friday is we stand at the foot of the cross knowing that the way of the cross part of the journey – not the destination. The destination is the resurrection – and our passport is an empty tomb that frees us to live lives of perfect freedom: free from the fear of death. Without the cross, the resurrection couldn’t have happened. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. But because it did – because of the Good News of this Good Friday -- we are freed to be fully alive by the power of the resurrection – healed, whole and liberated in this life and the next.