The Preacher said, “The crucifixion was not God’s plan.” With those words, it was as if he had pulled back a curtain, revealing a whole new way of understanding the Christian story; a whole new way of looking at the world. Having seen it, it was like going through a door that then banged closed. The scene couldn’t be unseen; there was no going back to a previous understanding. It was a this-changes-everything moment.
Over the next few days and weeks, I pondered numerous implications of that statement. I discovered new answers to many of the ideas and questions I had struggled with ever since I was a little girl in Sunday School. Now they held together, made sense, didn’t contradict each other. The crucifixion was not God’s plan, and still God forgave it.
When I pursued formal studies, in seminary, I discovered that I was not alone in my conclusions. Important people, people with letters after their names that started with a P or a D, not just a lowly M, had written books about it, even.
The crucifixion was not God’s plan. It was the inevitable result of the trajectory that God set into motion with the birth of a baby to a young woman from Nazareth. In a land under occupation by a powerful, oppressive, foreign empire. To a nation, a people struggling to survive and hold onto its culture and religious practices, whose leaders acquiesced or compromised, when necessary, with those who had the ability to annihilate them.
It was a trajectory that took that baby, now grown to a young man to the ones that society forgot or abandoned or hated; people who were hungry, in need of healing, in need of hope, in need of a path out of complicity with the oppressors.
It was a trajectory that challenged the status quo and brought him to the attention of and into conflict with the leaders whose teaching and practices he often challenged and criticized, even as they tested him. Eventually, it brought him to the attention of the empire’s local rulers.
It was a trajectory, a life, that fully embodied the fundamental character of God:
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” as we heard last night.
Jesus wouldn’t stop loving, caring for those in need of love and care. He wouldn’t stop teaching that life doesn’t have to be this way, that God wants each and every person to have life in abundance, that the kingdom of God is near; near enough to touch. He just wouldn’t stop. He wouldn’t avoid the city or the authorities and rulers. God in Christ doesn’t abandon us even when it means death; death on a cross.
Christ doesn’t abandon us in our misery or our suffering or in our despair. Christ doesn’t abandon us to sin – our own or the sins against us; no matter how heinous or how trifling. God’s steadfast love extends to the whole of humanity and human experience. Even to those we cannot love and those we cannot forgive.
Today we remember the unjust killing of a man that occurred two thousand years ago. A killing witnessed by all segments of society – Roman soldiers and governors, religious authorities, servants who were present, just doing their jobs, the man’s closest friends, co-workers, and family, casual bystanders and people who were the lowliest, the angry mob who opposed him, and the crowds who had praised him. A story that has been told and retold through the centuries.
At the same time, we have spent a year with the unjust deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the US, caused by a virus that strikes indiscriminately coupled with the willful incompetence of influential leaders.
At the same time, we are witnessing the beginning of the trial for the unjust killing of a man that happened almost a year ago. We see the video and hear the testimony of witnesses. Witnesses from all walks of life.
At the same time, we are still reeling from the unjust killing of fellow human beings in Atlanta, killed because of their race, and the unjust killing of other fellow human beings at a grocery store – working or shopping or getting a vaccine to protect them from the threat of death from the virus, and two more killing events just this week, one today.
The crucifixion was not God’s plan. COVID is not God’s plan. Violence and death, whether by police or war or terrorists or car accident or cancer or any other reason or person – are not God’s plan.
Through the lens of the cross, however, we find that Christ’s love holds it all – our anger and guilt, our mourning and sorrow, our compassion and empathy and our love and our joy. Through the lens of the cross, we see God’s unfailing, unbounded, steadfast love.
Beloved of God, you are Christ’s own, and having loved his own, he loves them, loves you, loves us, to the end.