Last Sunday night, the Fox Television Network premiered a retelling of the story of Jesus journey to the Cross. Set in the City of New Orleans the Passions was a mix of Scripture and music that made the story, that we are witnesses to this week, new for a new generation. Not unlike Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar the attempt was made to make the story fresh. I liked what they did and thought it would speak to a generation that needs to hear this message in their language.
The one thing that stuck out was that there was no scene of the crucifixion. There was no scene of Jesus being whipped, beaten, and spat upon, the focus of this portrayal was not the usual blood and gore of Good Friday but the unconditional love and forgiveness of the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
When I was in seminary, the movie the Passion of the Christ was shown. We traveled to the theater as a group to see the movie and then went back to the seminary and had a discussion about it. The images of a bloody Jesus remain with me to this day and when you ask anyone about the movie they will talk about the blood and the gore, but no one seems to mention love and forgiveness.
Now I fully understand that in order to have the Resurrection we first need to have the crucifixion, but I believe we have focused way too much attention on the violence of the day and not enough attention for the reason for the day.
Anyone who has heard me preach for any length of time knows that I usually circle back to the theme of love and forgiveness, why because that is what the entire story is all about. Everything that Jesus did and said was about this radical idea, and yes it was radical for them, of unconditional love and forgiveness. Until this time, believers had to sacrifice; they had to make long journeys and offer up animals for sacrifice to find forgiveness from God. There were all sorts of rituals and superstitions that one had to perform and believe in to find forgiveness of sin. Then Jesus comes along and stands it all on its head.
I sometimes wonder if we have lost the understanding of the mission of Jesus. I sometimes wonder if in all of the committee meetings and other such churchy things if we have entirely lost the reason for why we do what we do. How often in Church meetings do we speak about love, compassion, healing, feeding, clothing, and the like. Sometimes I feel like we are more pharisaical than apostles. More like the Sanhedrin than the disciples. More like Judas than the repentant thief hanging on the cross beside Jesus.
We live in a world that has been turned on its end. I witnessed a conversation on Facebook yesterday decrying the for-profit corporation Cadbury dropping Easter from its Chocolate eggs. I entered the fray by saying who cares it’s not about chocolate eggs it’s about the resurrection. Immediately I was scolded and reminded that Christianity in America is under siege. We seem to be more concerned about Chocolate eggs then we are about childhood poverty and hunger. Christians it’s time to wake up and remember what being a Christian truly means!
Everywhere Jesus went his message was clear, love God and love your neighbor. He also spoke of the need for forgiveness not just between God and us but between our neighbors and us. Each time we recite the prayer that Jesus himself taught us we say for forgive us as we forgive others. Lack of forgiveness leads to hate and hate very often leads to violence.
Forgiveness is not about the other person forgiveness is about you. When we withhold forgiveness, we are only harming ourselves for we give the other person, or person, power over us and we re-victimize ourselves in the process. Sure, it will take time and God’s grace to help us to forgive, but it is a necessity if we are going to have a balanced spiritual life. I will add that the most important person that we need to forgive is us, we need to forgive ourselves.
So back to the cross. Jesus was there, between two thieves, one who recognizes the severity of their predicament and understands that Jesus was indeed innocent. We have no understanding of what they were accused of, it does not matter, but one of them turns to Jesus and asks that he be forgiven and Jesus, says yes, you are forgiven.
He looks down from the cross, and all of those who had been with him for the three years of his ministry are gone, except for James and the a few women and his mother, but he does not curse the ones who fled for their lives. He does not curse Peter for his denial, and he does not curse Judas for his betrayal. He forgives them all.
He looks down from the cross, a symbol of hatred and persecution, and sees the men who have just nailed him there, casting lots for his clothing and making fun of him. Rather than curse them, he looks up to heaven and asks God to forgive them. He asks God to forgive the very people who have just killed him, and he puts no condition on this forgiveness at all, he does not even care if they believe in him or accept their forgiveness, he just simply forgives them.
I like to use the image of the cross when I speak of this notion of unconditional love. When you welcome someone home, as the father welcomed back his prodigal son, you throw your arms wide open as a symbol of welcome and embrace. Jesus is there, with his arms wide open welcoming us all into his loving and forgiving arms. He’s not there to judge and say that we cannot come because we love the wrong person or we have the wrong skin color, his arms are wide and open for all who desire to know that he forgives, and I want to assure you this day and every day that he truly forgives you.
If you are here today, in this place and at this hour, and need to know this love and understand this forgiveness, do not leave this place without the full knowledge and assurance that you are indeed forgiven.
This day is not about blood and gore; it’s not really even about the cross. It’s about the love of all of God’s children, and it is about forgiveness of all of God’s children.