The Rev. Bob Pierson, Assisting Priest
Scripture: Luke 23:1-49
Click above to listen to Father Bob's homily. We apologize that video isn't available.
It was the year 1098, and Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury at the time, wrote a treatise to explain the reason for the Incarnation titled, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became a Human Being). That piece of theological writing became one of the most influential pieces of theology ever written, unfortunately. I say, unfortunately, because Anselm was responsible for changing the thinking of Western Christians for centuries to come.
According to Anselm, God was like a medieval lord who was angry because he had been offended by human sin. Just as in medieval society at the time, it was expected that the one who offended the lord had to make amends, or atone, for what they had done. And because God was the Eternal Lord, the one to do the atonement had to be able to bridge the gap between human and divine, the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. Anselm reasoned that God sent the Son to die for the human race so that atonement could be made for human sin, opening the possibility of salvation for human beings.
Of course, that theory of salvation makes God out to be rather “blood-thirsty” and a rather abusive father figure. From that point on, it because increasingly difficult to people to relate to God, the first person of the Trinity, as a loving parent. God's image was that of a medieval Lord who demanded atonement, and it was Jesus' job to provide the needed sacrifice. I am not sure why that theory caught on so well, but it certainly did, even with the reformers who came along a few centuries later. It has only been in the last 50 years or so, that Christians have begun to reject Anselm's theory, even though that theory continues to influence our thinking in sometimes very subtle ways.
The teaching of Jesus in the Gospels portrays God as a loving parent, “Abba.” And the parables of Jesus reveal an image of God that is merciful and loving, not judgmental and punishing. I prefer to look at the events of Jesus suffering and death as the result of human sin, not the way to atone for it. Yes, Jesus had to die, but not because God demanded his sacrifice. Jesus had to die because the religious and political leaders of his day were so threatened by his teaching that they had to get rid of him. His teaching about God's love and mercy completely undermined the system of temple sacrifice upon which the religious leaders based all their power and authority. And his popularity with the people threatened the political leaders from Rome who needed the people to live in fear in order to control them.
Jesus had to die because he couldn't renounce his own faith that God loved humankind, and because he wouldn't do that, he was killed to get him out of the way. Fortunately God was with him, and raised him from the dead to prove that death and sin are not the final word. God's love is stronger than death, and the events of this Holy Week that we are remembering this week show us that God's love conquers human sin and selfishness, no matter how violent it may be. That Good News gives us hope in every difficult situation in our lives. Nothing, not even death, can overcome God's love for us.