“When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days…
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, And he shall bear their iniquities.” – Isaiah 53:10, 11
The Oceti Sakowin camp had been there for months by then, full of Water Protectors resisting proposed plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross a dammed section of the Missouri River not far from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux. Other waves of supporters had come before them: waves of clergy, waves of sympathetic activists. This was just another wave, this time of military veterans.
But then a group of them did an astonishing thing. Standing in formation before tribal leaders, they dropped to their knees. They recited a list of the atrocities that the American military has perpetuated against Native Americans throughout the years. Then they literally begged for forgiveness.
Of course we don’t know the name and history of every single person there that day, but it’s probably safe to assume that most of them did not actually personally commit any of the injustices they mentioned. And yet, there they were apologizing for them. They chose to bear the iniquities of their ancestors as a way of making things right in the present.
Neither was Jesus the creator of any of the systems that destroyed him on this day so long ago: the forces of empire, the greed of client kings, the cowardice of leaders, the fickleness of crowds, the betrayal of friends, the tyranny of the powerful over the weak. And yet, he chose to bear them in his own body to try and make things right in his present and in the future.
Jesus, who didn’t have to, climbed a cross with the weight of others’ sins on his back. The vets at Standing Rock, who didn’t have to either, bowed low under the same weight. And in each of those moments, something like salvation entered the world.
Holy One, let me not bear the sins of others in vain, but if the bearing will help your salvation to enter the world, give me strength to do it. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.