On this Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, we continue to reflect on the death of Jesus and on what it means to follow him, as we wait for the dawn of resurrection. What does it mean to follow Jesus in this time of ascending evil, destruction, scapegoating, and death? First, what it does not mean: Following Jesus does not mean submitting to oppression or choosing to suffer. Jesus raised up women, children, outcasts, and others who were despised and oppressed, and showed that they were worthy children of God. Surely we are called to do the same.
Nor did Jesus seek suffering for himself—nothing in the gospel accounts point to that. Rather, he was true to his mission as he had declared it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). By his preaching, teaching, healing, community building, and actions that challenged the ruling Powers, he incurred their wrath. As a result, they plotted against him and had him executed. Jesus’ death was the result of the way he lived his life.
The story of Jesus and his “passion” was not something he had wanted for himself, nor was it the plan of an angry God. Rather, in full integrity and freedom of choice, he refused to back down and betray himself, his mission, the people he loved, or his God. Further, in the agony of Jesus, the suffering God endured the full impact of human sin and evil, and continues to suffer at our hands as God’s beloved children and creation itself are crucified today.
The question arises: Why would we want to follow Jesus, who experienced such a horrendous death, or a God who undergoes suffering? Why not instead focus on something positive, or find a faith that enables us to transcend the world’s suffering, or point to a God who looks on from a distance and sees only harmony? Or, why not interpret the message of Christianity as being based on the God-ordained sacrifice of a beloved son who came to die to set things right? Then all we have to do is say “yes” to this story, accept this (ahistorical) Jesus into our hearts, and worship him. This at least allows us to accept the supposedly predetermined status quo.
But Jesus did not call on his friends to worship him, but to follow him: to reject the cultural values of wealth and worldly power and to practice and promote the values of tolerance, justice, peace, and love. This requires an “ethic of risk,” because it places us at odds with the dominant institutions of our day, just as it placed Jesus at odds with those of his day. And we see clearly not only what human-constructed systems did to Jesus, but what they do to those “surplus populations” that threaten the order of global corporate-dominated capitalism today.
Still, even on Holy Saturday, as we remember the death of Jesus and so many unjust deaths throughout history until today, we anticipate and live into the reality of Easter. The light of the Risen Christ is with us, making it possible to face the evil, pain, and darkness of our time and to celebrate compassion, beauty, and love. His Living Spirit is with us, making it possible to set out on the path of following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.
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This is the final post in Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.
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