Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
Jesus ends his life’s journey in Jerusalem. Although the details leave a lot of room for the imagination, that Jesus came to Jerusalem, and there he died, is a historical fact, attested to in the historical chronicles of the time. All four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters of St. Paul witness to Jesus’ death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, with the complicity of religious authorities based in the Temple. The uncertainty of the ages leaves no question about how Jesus died.
Our theology of why Jesus died has not been as fixed as the historical record is. Theologians whom I respect hold that the sturdiest way of understanding Jesus’ death is that it is a consequence of two basic things.
One, Jesus was a human being, so his death was a certainty. That is not to undermine the cruelty and injustice of his death, its real and symbolic importance. In this respect, our deaths mesh with Jesus’ death. The story of our mortal flesh is inscribed: birth and death are invariably intertwined.
The second reason is more nuanced, but just as true. Part of human sin is that we kill the things we love. Not always, but in the case of Jesus, we absolutely killed the human being who was the most deserving of our love. We are like children who don’t listen when we’re told if we’re not careful, and play too rough, something priceless is going to be ruined. That is our collective responsibility for Christ’s death. We can’t hear nor heed the wise counsel to be careful. Human beings are not kind to things, particularly living things.
God, doubtlessly, knew that human beings break things irretrievably. Thus God ensured there would be a solution to humans’ inability to preserve life. God brought New Life into the world. Through Jesus’ resurrection, as St. Paul first wrote, death has been defeated and we have a second chance—a surprising, best outcome.
Jesus did not live in vain, and he didn’t die in vain. Neither do we.