Monday, May 12, 2014

Why did Jeus have to die? - a sermon for Holy Thursday, 2014

I was asked not to long ago by a little child, “Why did Jesus have to die?”
What a question! This is perhaps the question of questions during the Triduum, these three holy days when we recall Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Why did Jesus have to die? What a great question! But it’s one of those questions that the more you look for an answer, the more there is to see. And to be honest, since talking with the child, I have seen so much more. But here is the response that I gave – or, at least, the one I would have given if I had written it down.
But friends, before I begin, let me implore you: Do not let this answer suffice. Keep asking the question. Keep looking to the story for the answer. Keep looking to the story of the bible for the answer. Keep looking to the story of your life with God for answers. Ask the question your whole life long. And look to the story – the story of Jesus, the story of you, the story of us – hoping to find the answer.
So, why did Jesus have to die? 
We talk about Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion and death a lot during Holy Week. We hear the story, in part or in whole so often, during this week: on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. The story is fresh in our hearts and in our heads and so we think about Jesus and his death. But, in the end, we must remember that the answer also has everything do with Easter, with the resurrection. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts about the question, Why did Jesus have to die? Remember, though, that they are just my thoughts. Keep asking and thinking about the question for yourself.
To start with, everybody knows that Jesus went about doing good works and telling the truth about life. Luke, one of those people who wrote about him, even said that people spoke of him as a prophet “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” A prophet is someone who tells the truth to powerful people who sometimes don’t like what they here. It makes them angry, or mad, or frightened. 
So in speaking the truth and doing mighty deeds, Jesus made some very powerful people very angry and they killed him to quiet him. And that, I think, is a good answer about why Jesus died. He was a truth teller.
But, you know, Jesus was more than just a truth teller. He did tell the truth. He challenged those in power. He was a prophet. But Jesus was more. You see, Jesus also loved people. Jesus loved ordinary people like me and the not-so ordinary people like you.
“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And that is one of the thing, maybe even the thing that people noticed about Jesus from the very beginning. Jesus loved people; but, not just some people, Jesus loved everyone. Jesus loved even everyone including some people who seem pretty un-lovely. The Gospels, the stories about Jesus love, tell us that Jesus had a particular love called compassion. Compassion is the kind of love where you share pain and sorrow as well as joys and delights. But it is easier, if we’re to honest with ourselves, to share with people when they are happy and when everything is all good. But what people remembered about Jesus was that he loved them when things were hard, like when they were accused of sin or when they were sick or in need or like after their brother died. 
Most of the time, at least in the story of the Gospels, Jesus’ compassion led to action. People remembered that Jesus cured the sick, he helped the blind to see, and he even raised people from the dead after they had died. And most of the time Jesus made people well because his love for them made them realize that they were not alone, that Jesus was with them as they suffered and that our suffering could be overcome or, at least, it could be borne because of a love that makes us feel close and safe and cared for.
There are all sorts of people out there who think that they can make our lives better. Religious, political, and business leaders who can make us better if we just have more money or elect them or do as they say.
But Jesus taught that he had the way to make our lives better and whole. Do as he did! What Jesus did was not just for others but it was for us. What Jesus did was for us to do also. It is the extraordinary power we are given by God. And so Jesus gave us a new rule, a new task. He said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” All of a sudden Jesus takes away all the power of all those others who would presume to rescue us and he replaces it with the power of compassionate love. And this power belongs to all of us who love as he loved. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Jesus was killed because he showed that all the promises of all the leaders were less important than the promise that Jesus made to us and that we make to one another. The promise to be with one another in pain and sorrow as well as in joy and peace. The promise to follow the way set by Jesus. The promise to do as Jesus did and love everyone with compassionate love. Jesus never really told us what to believe; but, instead, Jesus showed us how to be and what to do. He showed us how to love one another and that that was a beginning of a whole new way of being.
Jesus didn’t have to die the way he did. He didn’t even have to die because he could have left. Jesus was executed. He was killed by those in power because he didn’t run away from the truth. And the people with the power, the armies, the people who hoard their money, the people who withhold knowledge, they do not like this kind of talk about compassion. They do not like it because those who love one another and are willing to suffer for one another, they just might give themselves for someone else in love without fear of death. Death has no control over them. Death has not the victory. And without fear, they have no power over us.
So Jesus accepted that his way, his way of love. And it was a dangerous way but if he ran from the danger it would be like living a lie. It would be like saying that he wouldn’t suffer as we do. As one writer said, “Having loved us, he loved us to the end.” They killed him but he lives still, raised in the compassionate love he asked us all to share.
Sometimes people say Jesus died for our sins. That’s one way to look at it – Jesus died because of our failure to love. “Why did Jesus have to die?” 
My answer just now is that Jesus died because he loved us. Jesus loved us, as un-lovely as we find ourselves to be sometimes, to his end. And now he asks us to love one another the way he loved us. Jesus gave his life to show us the way so that we would know what compassionate love looks like. And to demonstrate that the power of such love is stronger even than death. And we who share the power of love will stand by one another – one spirit, one body, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, showered in laughter and in tears, standing in joy, in grief, in pain, and whatever else might come. In the end that compassionate love, which is God’s love for us, will endure.
On Easter, at the Great Vigil, we will celebrate that love in a special way has Hannah Frances is brought through the waters of baptism, made one of Christ’s own forever. And we will give thanks to God for God’s compassionate love in Jesus, which is showered upon all creatures great and wonderful.
Why did Jesus choose to die? So that we might believe in love and in the one who loves.
Why did Jesus choose to die? So that we might believe in a love that endures.
Now, just as this story began with the question of a little child, let love be the beginning of a new question for you and let it be the beginning of a new story with new questions.

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