A God Un-Like Us
Holy Week began today. I haven’t yet made up my mind if, this year, it comes as a gift or a burden — or both? By the mercies of God we once again may live into this Holy Week as a gift; or, in a world already so full of suffering and grief, here’s more. Holy Week as a burden.
Linda and I have been watching the series, “A French Village” on Netflix. Occupied France in WWII. Vichy France. The collaborators. The compromised. The resistance. It is very, very good, and very, very intense. Last night, as we watched yet another once winsome, seemingly decent, character had his feet of clay exposed. All I could think was what Paul wrote to the Romans, “All have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God.”
In the relative comfort of our lives and the absence of the kind of daily tests faced by people in Nazi-occupied France or military-ruled Burma or dictator-controlled Belarus, we may be able to remain naive about what Anselm called “the gravity of sin.” We imagine that we would have done better. That we do better. No, all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God. The world groans under a heavy weight of sin and death.
What makes the week “Holy” is that God enters into it all, taking the burden of the world’s sin and violence upon God’s very self.
A popular understanding/ explanation of the cross goes like this: we’re all terrible sinners. God is really angry. The only way to satisfy God’s righteous anger is with a sinless sacrifice. And the sacrifice is his Son. As I say, popular; but bad theology. God isn’t standing back, arms crossed, waiting to be appeased by the death of Jesus. It is God who is on the cross. Being itself taking upon its self a burden too heavy for us to bear, a weight too crushing for us to lift.
Here’s a bit from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Corners” blog and her reflection for Holy Week 2021.
“I’m not sure which is worse about what I was taught (see summary above): the fact that we had somehow made God out to be a divine child abuser or that we had made God out to be an angry loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.
“Either way, I don’t think that’s really who God really is. But I do think that whole mess is what we get when we think the cross is about us and not about God . . .
“Because when we think the cross is about us, the only view we can have of God is of God standing in heaven with folded arms looking down at the cross judging us but punishing Jesus. But the thing is, God isn’t standing above the cross. God is hanging from the cross . . .
“From his rough hewn throne of a cross Christ the King looks at the world and no one escapes his judgment…those who betray him, those who execute him, those who love him, and those who ignore him. He judges us all. From the cross the pronouncement is made and the judgment is final and that judgement is….forgiveness. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing is an eternally valid statement. From his cross Christ loves the betrayer, the violent, the God killer in all of us and despite our protests he will not even lift a finger to condemn those who put him up there. Because it is finally only a God unlike us — a God who enters our human existence and suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness who can save us from ourselves.
“And, I would contend that through the cross we know that God isn’t standing smugly at a distance but that God’s abundant grace is hiding in, with, and under all this broken shit in the world around us.
“God is present with us in all of it.
“And while the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not about you. It is certainly FOR you.
In fact, God is so for you that there is no place God will not go to be with you. Nothing separates you from the love of God in Jesus….not insults, not betrayal, not suffering, and as we will see at Easter – not even death itself.
So don’t go from glory to glory and skip the cross [Palm Sunday to Easter without the in-between stuff], because it is there that you will find a self-emptying God who pursues you and saves you with relentless, terrifying love and who ultimately will enter the grave and the very stench of death in order to say even here, even here I will not be without you. Hosanna in the highest indeed. Whatever it ends up looking like, have a blessed Holy Week. We need it this year. Amen.