A congregation of the United Church of Canada
War of the Worlds – Casualties
And just like that, it was over. All that hope. All that talk of justice, and peace. All that focusing on care, and compassion, and serving. All that immersion in love – gone. Snuffed out like a poor brief candle. Yes, we know there’s more to the story, and that this is not the end. But we mustn’t hurry past this moment. If we don’t linger we will lessen the impact of Sunday. If we don’t pause and ponder the cross, we cheapen it, like it’s no big deal and we can just get on with celebrating. Well, you just heard the story of Jesus’ last days with all the gory details. Did it sound like ‘no big deal’ to him?
By the same token, he wouldn’t want us to get stuck here – constantly bemoaning the suffering, and wallowing in guilt, or shame, or whatever else stirs in us amid such agonies. Just as Peter, James, and John couldn’t set up shop on the mountaintop of the transfiguration, neither should we set up shop at the foot of the cross. But we must stay long enough to learn from it.
Why did Jesus feel the need to endure this torment? And make no mistake, crucifixion is purposely designed to be like torture. Why didn’t Jesus just deftly come up with a brilliant turn of phrase and sidestep it all? Some say it’s because God needed to be appeased. Well, I’m sorry, but that makes no sense to me. Tough love may rightly be needed by times, but tough love doesn’t kill the one it loves. Sure, you could say Jesus’ love held him on the cross – but that’s his choice – his commitment – his calling. If it’s his obligation and he’s powerless then it utterly undermines his message.
His message was that the Kingdom of God, the realm in which love and one-anothering are the core values, is a way of living that is worth standing up for, no matter what. It wasn’t God that nailed Jesus to that tree – it was the ‘ways of the world’ that drove the nails in. It was the kingdom of ‘me, me, me’. It was the self-obsession of the powers and principalities of the world that interpreted radical inclusion and infinite loving-kindness as a threat. It was so much of a threat to the powers that be that they went to war against God’s Kingdom by implementing the polar opposite of it. Tragically, there are some hard truths about war – and one of them is that it creates casualties.
Jesus is the ultimate casualty of the ‘war of the worlds’. He paid the ultimate price and was subjected to the ultimate cost of standing for your principles, come what may. That’s why this day is so hard for us to understand – because in a war the good guys are supposed to win. But he didn’t. Or so it seems. Good must prevail over evil. Love must prevail over hate. ‘Us’ must prevail over ‘me’. And it surely will. But it may not be apparent in the moment.
So yes, surely Jesus is a casualty of this ‘war or the worlds’. But so too are all those on the ‘other side’ who have not yet perceived the loving presence of God.
All those who couldn’t understand what Jesus was standing up for.
All those walking around thinking there’s nothing more than our day-to-day slog.
All those who practice self-aggrandizement at the expense of others.
All those who say, “I got mine; I don’t care about you.”
All those slowly (or quickly) chipping away at their soul, when they could be experiencing the joys of knowing who and whose they are – being loved just for being themselves – being beloved by God – which they are, but tragically they don’t seem to realize it.
These are surely also casualties of the ‘war of the worlds’. But they have not yet seen or perceived that.
And maybe that’s a way to understand why Jesus died, or to say that he died ‘for’ us. Jesus was a casualty in this war because he lived God’s Way, he lived his principles, he lived out loud, he lived love – and the world couldn’t comprehend it, and couldn’t abide feeling as it did when faced with it. But in his death, in his dying for his values, our values – he brought light and awareness in the most profound and far-reaching way imaginable. Has any other death been so…noticed?
So it is right for us to lay ourselves down at the foot of the cross for a short while, and notice, and lament. Life is not a Hallmark card, or a neat and tidy TV show that gets all wrapped up with a bow within an hour. Life is messy, and sometimes ugly and horrible – especially when worlds are at war. Jesus on the cross reminds us that we aren’t just playing around with this stuff. We can’t flit in and out of church like it’s nothing. Revealing the Kingdom of God is serious business, and it brings serious consequences to those who would dare to live it loudly.
Luke gives to Jesus these final earthly words – “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” They’re the same words he lived every day. Trust, commitment, belovedness. No war could ever take that from Jesus. No cross could either. Trust, commitment, belovedness. If we can notice that, and live that, and have it take hold more deeply, more passionately, and more emphatically because of the cross, then yes – I think it’s entirely true that he died ‘for’ us. And in gratitude our response should be to weep, and pray, and rest in remembering all he said and did. And soon, in a couple of days, we’ll be ready for the next battle in this ‘war of the worlds’.
But for now, in the shadow of the cross, in the stillness, we wait…