• Dr. Richard

Be Not Afraid

It was about a thousand years after Jesus’ crucifixion that the idea of substitutionary sacrifice – the idea that Jesus died for human error – took form in a writing issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The earliest “followers of the way” (the term “Christianity” doesn’t appear in your Judaeo-Christian Bible) certainly wouldn’t have related to such a suggestion.

Even the statement that Jesus gave his life a ransom for many is best understood to say that his vision of a kingdom marked by equality, inclusion, peace, plenty, justice – not just for the few, but for the multitudes – was not for sale at any price.

So, perhaps this alone is the gift that needed to get today. If you read this with decades of guilt because Jesus died for something you did wrong, allow this to be the very moment in which that psychic burden is cast to the cleansing winds of new understanding.

On a spring Sunday in the year 30, or so, we are told that two processions entered Jerusalem. The collision of a royal procession led by Pilate and rooted in imperial supremacy and bloody violence, and a peasant procession led by Jesus and rooted in universal equality and unconditional love – inaugurated Christianity’s beginnings as the epic climax to some 1,000 years of escalation.

In other words, Christianity began with tension – with an old way of being colliding with a new way of being.

It is said that on Monday, Jesus cursed the fig tree, drove the buyers and sellers from the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers while saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’” Jesus was emphatic. Impassioned. Irritated.

On Tuesday, according to one of our accounts, Jesus participated in an ongoing game of trap, escape, and counterattack with the authorities.

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” asked one, to which Jesus’s “yes” would have alienated his peasant audience, and to which his “no” would have legitimized his persecutors. So, there’s the attack. And Jesus responded, with, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” And there’s the escape, you see, for it was understood by Jesus and many of his contemporaries that everything belonged to God.

So in response to the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” Jesus cleverly answered, “Caesar should get everything Caesar deserves.” And there’s the counterattack.

Can’t we always count on the old way to rise in resistance to the new way, whether within our individual minds or our entire societies?

The narrative continues that on Wednesday, an unnamed woman poured expensive ointment over Jesus’ head (as in a burial ritual) and received a stunning accolade when he said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” For of all who had heard the prophecies of his death and resurrection, she was the first one to believe him.

And this isn’t surprising, for woman disciples were there from the beginning of his ministry, and we continue to live in the painful throes of pretending – for so long - that they weren’t.

So, this woman is, for the writer of the gospel named Mark, the first believer and by extrapolation she is the first Christian.

So, from that original tension through decision and resistance, we find our Jesus narrative acknowledging the important role of finding another who would believe in his ministry, finding another who would believe in his wisdom, finding another who would believe in his vision.

As the narrative continues, Thursday was marked by the Passover (Last) Supper, prayers in Gethsemane, Peter’s three denials, the arrest, the interrogation and the condemnation.

And while Thursday easily could have been themed as betrayal or fear or disappointment, I choose to suggest that it’s commitment that found Jesus standing upon that threshold between what had been and what would be (between the old way and the new way) and choosing to step across that point of no return.

By Thursday, Jesus certainly knew he would die. He could have left the festival and lived to fight another day. But he didn’t.

And so it was that on Friday, Jesus was delivered to Pilate’s soldiers. He was tortured and humiliated, even undergoing something of a mock coronation in which they clothed him in a purple cloak and crowned him with thorns. He was crucified – a form of public terrorism reserved for those who deny imperial authority – and he was buried.

Now, until this moment, the story of Jesus might have slipped into anonymity along with those of countless other Jews crucified by the Roman Empire; countless other Jews whose bodies were left suspended along the streets as dark reminders of the sweep of that imperial supremacy and bloody violence.

But from Sunday’s account we read, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might go and anoint him.

And early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone had already been rolled back.”