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Why did Jesus die?

What I know about Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter, which are nearly upon us is that this season gives us the opportunity to think seriously about our faith every year in the light of the life events that have affected us over the year that has passed. Because our faith does not mean anything if it doesn't engage with the person we are and what is happening for us right now. So, as we follow Jesus in his ministry in the countryside, to the raising of Lazarus, to Jerusalem, to his teaching in the temple, to the Last Supper, to his trial, his crucifixion and to the empty tomb, we can think about each of these events and how they relate to things that have happened to us or to things that we are pre-occupied with. So when we read that Jesus wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus we might draw some comfort for our own loss, whatever that might be. Or when we hear Jesus give his disciples one more commandment - to love one another as I have loved you - this might help us to love our neighbour more.

This is one question that I want to think about more deeply this year. A question that is central to our faith but one perhaps we don't think enough about. Why did Jesus die? The simple answer is that he died for our sins. But actually that answer doesn't go very far because it's not really very clear what that means. There is one interpretation of "that he died for our sins" which suggests that Jesus was punished in the place of humans so that God could forgive us for all sin since time began. The theology depends on us believing in the idea of the original sin of Adam and Eve which tainted all humanity. We are all sinners and God needs to send his Son to be sacrificed, punished even, so that we can be saved. This is actually a relatively recent idea, developed in the reformation and is sometimes referred to as "substitutionary atonement". It depends on a view of God that I feel is rather limited and limiting. This seems to be a God that is mean spirited, demanding justice and retribution for something we have done wrong and one who is prepared to punish his son to put things right. This view doesn't fit with my passionate belief in a God who is loving, all forgiving and creative. This theory also seems to suggest that it's only the last three hours Jesus' life on the cross that have any meaning for humanity while ignoring his ministry of teaching and healing and spiritual guidance. Isn't this theory rather off putting? I personally feel that it is deeply unsatisfying to heart and soul that a natural reaction could be either to keep silent or walk away from religion all together.

Over Lent and the Easter period I would like to suggest an alternative view. Put simply it is this:- that Jesus' death on the cross was a revelation of God's infinite love for his creation, not some bloody payment required by God's offended justice to pay for our sins. The world that Jesus came to, the realty we live in today is a mixture of human and the divine. It's a mixture of the heroic and wonderful and good and the tragic and sad and simple.  It is both broken and whole. There is joy and there is suffering. We can all think of examples all too evident today. On the cross Jesus showed us for ever that this reality is not meaningless and absurd. Jesus voluntarily agreed to carry the mystery of universal suffering. And he allowed it to change him - he was resurrected. And he showed us we can be changed too. He did this by showing us that we do not need to be trapped inside the pain of the world and our lives or think that the only way out is to project that pain on to others. He showed us that, if we are able to carry these contradictions, heroic and tragic, broken and whole, joy and suffering we can be saviours of this world too. We can be agents of transformation, God's messengers in the world bringing new creation and reconciliation.

Now this is a lot to take in. So over the next few weeks I, and the Ministry Team, will look at these ideas and spend a bit more time exploring what they mean to our faith and, just as important, how they can help us to live our lives to the full in God's love.

I wish us all a blessed and holy Lent and Easter.

John
Priest in Charge