Fear and faith aren’t something we like to put in the same sentence these days. We don’t like to think of God’s presence or actions as something to be afraid of. We don’t like to focus on things like “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom…”. Nor do we dwell on the fact that every time an angel shows up in the scriptures the first words are, “Fear not.” So, too, when Jesus walked on water, he called out to the disciples, “Fear not.” The women left the tomb early that first Easter morning because they were terrified and we tend to ignore or minimize their fear to focus on the rest of the story.
Of course, if we go with tradition and say that God sent Jesus to die for the sins of humanity, then that is a God that inspires terror for sure. What kind of a God would make God’s only child pay for the sins of everyone else? I suppose that would be the same God that punishes human choices with disease and earthquakes. This is a God that would be someone to be feared.
However, this is not who God is. It cannot be. If we start with the premise that God loved the world so much that God became Divine Love Incarnate, then how can we end with a God whose only plan to save humanity was the incredibly violent and ugly act of crucifixion? Divine Violence doesn’t match the picture of Jesus that scriptures paint.
We can’t deny that Jesus suffered. Holy Week reminds us just how much Jesus suffered. Betrayal and abandonment, denial and mockery, death and desertion. These things happened. They happened this way because human beings made human choices. There were people who were afraid that the followers of Jesus would start a rebellion against Rome for sure, and maybe even against Jewish authorities. Jesus knew his life was at risk. He’d gotten the death threats. He had to know there were those out there who would have happily seen him stoned.
When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, he was not oblivious to the political climate. He threatened people with his talk of love and freedom. He was gaining followers who were questioning those in power. So Jesus was arrested, convicted, and crucified in short order. But this does not mean that this was God’s plan all along.
In those days and many days since then, whatever could not be explained was attributed to God. We know that earthquakes are caused by shifting tectonic plates and not the hand of God. We know that diseases are caused by genetics, germs, mutated cells, poor nutrition and the like; they are not a punishment for sin. People die from accidents and illnesses and their own actions; to say it was “God’s will” somehow diminishes all involved, especially God. Things happen all the time that are not what God would choose. Jeremiah reminds the people of Israel that God only plans a prosperous and hopeful future for them. So when things go wrong, it stands to reason that the causes are more likely to be human than they are divine. People choose other than what God would want all the time and innocent people get hurt. The world we live in really is fallen in that it is not a world in which people are forced to choose Love.
Now if we are willing to stop blaming God for all these other things, why is it impossible to consider that the only way God could imagine saving the world was through the crucifixion? A God who is Love who became Love Incarnate surely had a more loving option. However, God let people be people and make the fearful, self-centered decisions people have been making since the beginning. As a result, Jesus was crucified. Yes, God let the spectacularly awful thing happen. But God didn’t leave it there. God then made the unthinkably amazing happen; Jesus rose from the dead.
Is God Love? Yes. Was it God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified? No. Did God allow that to happen because God allows humans to choose their own path? Yes. Did God stop loving us because of what we did to Love Incarnate? No. God loved us even more if that is possible. And loves us still. No matter what we do.
And that brings us back to fear. I think that being in the presence of God is absolutely terrifying. Love so huge, so strong, so unavoidable, so steadfast is overwhelming and frightening and an awe-filled kind of way. A God who continues to wrap the whole of creation in love in spite of everything human beings have done, a God who offers God’s own self to show that love, and a God who defies death is something to be truly awed by (in a heart-pounding, knee-knocking kind of way).
If all who profess faith lived fully in the love that God offers us, how different the world would be. How different you would be. How different I would be… It really is a scary thought. So, let us be like those women and run away from the empty tomb that is so deeply unnerving. And later, when the fear wears off a bit, we will tell the story, our story, because that is what people do.
RCL – Year B – Easter – April 5, 2015
Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8
Images from pixabay.com. Used with permission.