Why did Jesus have to die?

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Good Friday—Year B; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

This past Wednesday, our children made the way of the cross in the Great Hall. At the end, we gathered and talked. One of them asked me, “Why do they call it Good Friday?” Ah, that is the question. That is always the question. I told them of a woman, years ago, who came knocking on my office door about 10:30 on Maundy Thursday night. She had been keeping vigil in this space, and she had one question for me, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why did Jesus have to die?”

All week long, we have been stepping into the shoes of different characters. Judas, Peter, the sleeping disciples, the chief priests, Pilate, the mockers and taunters and teasers, but by now, on this Good Friday, Judas is long gone with his silver, Peter has heard the cock crow, the disciples have long since fled, the chief priests have won, Pilate has washed his hands, and the rest have rolled their dice and tired of the game. There are only three characters left today—God, Jesus, and us.

 “Why did Jesus have to die?” Did Jesus have to die? Could it have gone some other way? Could it have played out any other way? I suppose it could, and probably does—God has a good many religious and spiritual traditions through which to touch the human heart. But would it have been enough? If it had played out some other way, would it have been enough? Not the enough needed to placate an angry God, but would it have been enough for us?

How else would we see all the faces of the false self unmasked than through the One who begs God to “forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”?

How else would we ever be pushed to ask that hardest of questions, “What is truth?”

How else would we ever learn what it means to yield, to truly yield?

How else would we ever see the utter insanity of the myth of redemptive violence than in the One who hangs there refusing to do violence in return? In some earlier time, in some earlier part of the drama, God might have rained down fire upon this crazed, broken humanity à la Sodom and Gommorah, but not on this day. On this day, God receives this violence, and holds it, and in that receiving and holding drains it of its life and power. As violent as we human beings are, how else would we see that Love calls us a different way?

How else would we know, know without a doubt, that there is nowhere in our human existence, nowhere in our earthly life, nowhere in the hells we inhabit, nowhere that we can go that God has not gone before us, how else would we know that than through the One who has drunk the dregs of human suffering, drained that cup completely, drained it until “it [was] finished”?

How else would we ever know God’s complete, utter, total solidarity with us in the depths of our humanity than through the One who has felt our anguish, experienced our loneliness, known our fear, tasted our abandonment, borne our despair?

How else would we ever trust that when we feel forsaken, we are not forsaken. The One who cried that awful, piercing cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”that One filled even that godforsaken place with God. How else would we know that no place, no place in our human journey is godforsaken, no place is forsaken by God, how else would we know that were it not for this day?

Why did Jesus have to die? Why do we call this Friday Good?

Because nothing else would have been enough to show us the unfathomable depths of God’s love for us.

 “Do you know how much I love you?” This is the only question God cares about. And today, this is how God answers, “Let me show you. Let me show you. Nothing else will be enough. I must show you with my flesh, with my arms stretched out, with my heart exposed. Then you will know. Then you will know. Then, it will be enough.”Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 29, 2013