Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. 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.” - John 19:16-18a
When my wife had to be hospitalized for an extended period, we were surprised at how many people showed up bearing gifts.
A painter friend brought an icon for her bedside table. A massage therapist rubbed her feet. Our landscaper arrived with the biggest fruit basket I’ve ever seen.
Our response was always the same, “You didn’t have to do that!”
And we meant the presents, but also the showing up in this place where neither of us wanted to be, in those long weeks of suffering.
I used to believe that Jesus’ death was remarkable for its brutality. That the awfulness of it was the point. God dies the worst death imaginable. That’s what makes redemption work.
Now I know people die worse deaths all the time. The crucifixion is ugly, but I’ve seen uglier.
So, here’s a heretical opinion: it didn’t need to be the cross. It didn’t need to be violent at all. Jesus could have died in his sleep, and it would have meant as much.
Because God didn’t have to die at all.
The remarkable thing, the redemptive thing is that God showed up. Unexpectedly. Bearing the gift of human flesh. Which can be flogged, and crowned, and killed.
Death was the natural conclusion of God’s choice to live. The power of the crucifixion was present as soon as God showed up—unnecessarily—in this place where others were suffering.
You didn’t have to do that! Thank you.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.