"So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one either side, with Jesus between them." - John 19:17-18
Yesterday I bought a half pound piece of butter stamped in the shape of a lamb. For Easter! How cute! At home our six-year old said, "What's that?" There was room in his brain for the Easter bunny and the empty tomb, but a butter lamb was one step too far. "What's that?"
How do you explain atonement theory to a first grader? "The lamb represents Jesus, who God killed so He can love us. Now spread some on your toast." Nope. Can you return used butter?
I don't believe God sacrificed Jesus. Who wants to worship a violent God? It's too much. But the alternative isn't enough; Jesus as a wise teacher doesn't cut it. There is a cross upon our altars, not a lesson plan.
Still, he did try to teach us. "Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemies. No more sword talk." Christ is God. And God is peace. Jesus was not an animal created for the slaughter, but God in the flesh, as capable of violence as a newborn lamb.
So he had to die. I think Jesus always knew what his end would be. When met with humanity's addiction to violence, the incarnation of God's peace must suffer an ugly end. What's the other option? Grab a sword and fight? If he did that he wouldn't be God.
As Stanley Hauerwas says, "The cross reveals the sin of the world." God is peaceful. We are violent. That's what the cross establishes. That's probably still too much for a six-year-old, but the rest of us ought to wrestle with it.
Dear God, in the cross you confront us with our violence. Overcome our denial. Leave us begging for your peace. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.