John’s gospel opens this way, “In the Beginning was the word”. He was referring to Jesus as the word. In the passion story, I am drawn to the words that Jesus offered to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
The words of Jesus are truth which guide us and give us courage. When we listen to and follow the words of Jesus we are free from sin and free to do God’s will. Today’s truth is that Jesus died on the cross. He died because the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem believed that Jesus was preaching against their faith. It is also likely that they were jealous, afraid the people would listen to Jesus more than they listened to the chief priests. Jesus died because he loved us and wanted to show us how to be in relationship with God.
We often say that Jesus died for our sins. I think that is true but I don’t believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was some payment made to God for our sins. There are many times in Scripture, both Old Testament and New, where God forgave the people. So, Jesus didn’t have to convince God to forgive our sins. That happens when we ask for forgiveness. I believe Jesus death was an effort to change us, to take us out of our sinfulness. We often use the word atonement for the sacrifice of Jesus. It can mean reparation for some wrong that was done. But a Christian definition of atonement is the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. Jesus wanted to bring us into one with God.
I read a sermon this week given by Diana Butler Bass, a distinguished author from the Episcopal tradition. She pointed me to the words of an English lady named Julian of Norwich. Julian lived a long time ago from 1342 until 1416. She was an anchoress, that is she led a solitary life in a small building connected to the church. All the interactions she had with people were through the window of her small cell.
When Julian was about 30 years old, she contracted some illness, perhaps the plague. She was lying on what was believed to be her deathbed. While in that state she had a series of visions of Jesus Christ bleeding in front of her. A web site called the Julian Centre offered this information, “She received insight into his sufferings and his love for us. Julian’s message remains one of hope and trust in God, whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath — ‘all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God's spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love’.” I would say that Jesus came to show us God’s love, God’s mercy and in so doing change us from people of wrath into people of peace and love.
Julian eventually wrote about her visions in a book called Revelations of Divine Love, which is thought to be the first book written in English by a woman. In this book, there is a place where Julian focused on the suffering of Jesus. She wrote, “Of all pains that lead to salvation this is the most pain, to see thy Love suffer. How might any pain be more to me than to see Him that is all my life, all my bliss, and all my joy, suffer?” As followers of Jesus, we have pain because Jesus had so much pain. This led her to a conclusion, that Jesus suffered with us. She wrote, “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.” That expression, ONEING, is just like that other expression I mentioned, atonement. Jesus suffering brings us into one with him and with God.
Diana Butler Bass concluded that while we might say that Jesus died for us, we might better say that Jesus died with us. With us is so much different than for us. It joins us in community with other people. It indicates that we are experiencing an event together rather than separately. When we say that Jesus died with us it makes all the difference to me. Jesus isn't somehow apart from us. He joins with us in our lives, coming to meet us where we are, sinners who struggle, and yet he is right there with us.
When I feel that Jesus is with me, it makes my journey easier. It creates an understanding that God didn’t just come to earth as some strange person but rather as someone that knows me and stays with me. It is like a best friend.
Jesus showed how he is with us when they arrested him in the garden. They asked if he was Jesus of Nazareth. He responded ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ Jesus was with his disciples and protected them from harm.
What does it mean to be with Jesus? Today, it means that we suffer with him, we join him in his agony. It means that we share in his sorrow for some deserted him when he died while others refused to give up their sins. It means that we commit ourselves to following the will of God, even if it hurts us in some way.
So, we reflect on the suffering that Jesus went through both for us and with us. We are thankful for his sacrifice. Given what we know about the word of Jesus, the truth of Jesus, we commit ourselves to be with him, walking with our Savior, staying committed to God each step of the way. Amen.