We gather together today to remember. We are remembering an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago that seemed to be an ending but was really a beginning. We are not really here to celebrate because even after 2000 years the physical events of that day we call Good Friday do not seem to be something we should celebrate. We have heard the story again and it evokes questions in all of us. What really happened? Most of all, why did those events have to take place?
How can God allow such an event to happen? How can God allow his Son to die that way? Why was it necessary? Surely God could have found another way to do what needed to be done. Surely the creator of the universe could have found another way restore the relationship between creator and creation. Yet if we study the whole story from where it starts, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth," we will find that maybe there was no other way. God created humanity because God is Love and Love wanted to be loved. God created humanity with a gift that still puzzles us. We call it free will. God created us with the ability to choose to love God or not. God then put limits on God's interaction with humanity. The story seems to say that God will not force God's love on humanity and God will not force humanity to love God.
The story of God's relationship with humanity is contained in the collection of books we call the Bible. That story is about God calling humanity into relationship with its creator again and again through a people God chose, the people of Israel. God spends the entire story pursuing this people. God creates them through Abraham, saves them, brings them out of slavery in Egypt, and makes a covenant with them to be their God and they will be God's people. The relationship between this people and God is based on the people keeping God's laws and ordinances. The rest of the story is about this people wandering away from their relationship with God and God pursuing them and calling them back into relationship through the prophets. God warns Israel. God even punishes Israel by sending them into exile. But God never takes away Israel's ability to choose to love God or not to love God. God never forces Israel to obey God's laws and ordinances so they will be in relationship with God. God is Love and Love will never force itself on anyone. That is what the story is about. God loves humanity and wants humanity of its own free will to love God.
Humanity has chosen to break its relationship with God. Israel has chosen to separate itself from God time after time. God set laws and ordinances to guide Israel in it relationship with God. Israel chose not to follow those laws and ordinances. Those things that humanity chooses to do that separates humanity from God is called sin. God is Love, but God is also righteous and holy. When humanity, especially Israel, broke their relationship with their creator, God's righteousness demanded that they be punished. That is where the story of God gets stranger than it is already. God who is righteous demands humanity be punished for its sin, yet God who is Love continues to pursue humanity calling us back into relationship with God.
God does for humanity what humanity cannot do for itself. To restore God's relationship with humanity, God becomes human. God becomes the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ. Jesus lives and grows among us. Jesus is fully human with all the joy and pain that being human involves. Yet Jesus is more because in Jesus we find the first human being that lives in perfect relationship with God. Jesus chooses to love God the way God created humanity to love God. Jesus never breaks his relationship with God and therefore Jesus is without sin.
We finally come to the part of the story of God and humanity that we heard today. Jesus had lived among his fellow human beings loving them as God created human beings to love each other. Jesus in his living of our human life taught us how we are to love God and each other. Yet, Jesus in his life and in his teaching taught us that God's Kingdom is very different than the world we live in. That example and teaching frightened many people. Jesus taught that God wanted to give God's love to all of humanity equally. Jesus taught that God equally valued all people whether they were rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, man or woman. This was and is very different from what the world taught. It was very different from what the leaders of the nation of Israel taught. Jesus came into conflict with his world and ours because he taught that God is Love and that God wanted to give that love to everyone as a gift. We could not earn it by being righteous, or pious, or rich. The only way we could receive the gift of God's love was to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ and accept the gift.
That was too much for the leaders of Israel. Jesus had broken all the rules that had been laid down for being in relationship with God as far as they were concerned. Jesus reached out to the sinners and the outcasts of society and told them that God loved them. Jesus offered God's forgiveness, healing and finally God's Kingdom to people who were sinners and outcasts without requiring they meet all the requirements of the laws and ordinances of Israel. Worst of all, Jesus claimed to be in a special relationship with God. He claimed in his teaching and in his actions to be the Son of God. The leaders of Israel decided that this upstart rabbi was a threat to the nation of Israel with his upside down teachings. This Jesus must be silenced and the status quo restored to the nation. That is how this story we read today came to be.
The answer to the question of why this event had to take place is simple. God so loved the world that he gave his Son so that all that believe in him would have eternal life. God is Love, that is the reason God did this. God loves us so much that God did what we could not do. God became human, lived our life yet without sin, and then took our sins upon himself and suffered our punishment. That is what this story is about. God loving us so much that God became sin for us so that we would be reconciled and restored to relationship with God.
The question for us this Good Friday is what is our response to this event? As we stand before the cross with the body of the Incarnate God upon it what will we do? We still have free will and can choose to accept the gift or not. Some may find the idea that God died for them on a cross offensive and reject the gift. Some may find the idea that God would require his sinless Son to die on a cross abusive and reject the gift. Yet the story tells us that God did this because God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. The story tells us that this event was and is the only way that God could give us the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal relationship with God. Will we reach out and take the gift of God's love that is the cross -- or not? The choice is ours. Amen.