Why did Jesus have to suffer?

Easter Sunday is just a little more than a week from now.

There’s something that ought to be disturbing about Easter Sunday. The message of Easter is not about bunnies lopping through the lawns, or dyed eggs and candy, or the abundance of those pastel colored chick shaped peeps whose heads the children love to bite off. The message of Easter is far more wonderful than the occasion of self-indulgence to which it has been recently reduced.

The message of Easter is about life and the quality of life. That message includes that the way to find the abundance of life comes from walking in the way of the cross and accepting all that walking in the way of the cross entails. The hard reality of Easter is that to get to the joy of the resurrection, we have to consider some things that we had rather not. Those include Jesus’ suffering and pain. But they also include betrayal, denial, hatred, mockery, cruelty and shame.

When my daughter was little, she used to like to watch horror movies, especially around Halloween. At certain points in the movie she would cover her eyes with her hands, claiming that she didn’t really want to see what was going to happen next, but all the while she was peering through her fingertips and watching. I think that is how most of us approach Jesus’ crucifixion. We don’t really want to see.

Yet, only to the degree that we appreciate the meaning of his crucifixion can we ultimately see the power of his resurrection. Eventually we must come to look at our Lord’s dying if we are to understand something about the mystery of living.

So why did Jesus have to walk in the way of the cross? The answer usually given in fairly worn out theology by cliché is that he had to die to take away our sins. That’s the way it has been preached and taught for many years. It was not even unique to the evangelical movement; Saint Anselm, considered to be the father of scholasticism, taught about the theory penal substitution in the 11th century. His treatise on the subject is a classic “Cur Deus Homo” “Why the God-Man.”

But times and the centuries have changed, and I am not so certain that the message of so brutal a punishment resonates in today’s time and culture.

So, perhaps for us, a more meaningful way to look at Jesus’ suffering, death and passion might focus on His work as the redeemer. Jesus had to walk in the way of the cross because we walk in the way of the cross. If he were to redeem our experience of life, he would have to do that by sharing in our dying.

When we focus on the work of Jesus as redeemer, then our attention is directed towards the real message of Good Friday: and that message is God’s love, and in response your gratitude.


Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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