by D.J. Chatelaine
Growing up a part of Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Good Friday arrived each year with a reenactment of Jesus’ ministry, from Baptism to crucifixion, during an outdoor theatrical production put on by talented church volunteers. I vividly remember being shy and somewhat afraid of “Jesus.” Maybe it was because I knew what was to come--brutal trial and crucifixion--and wanted so badly for that one moment to turn out differently, much like anytime you revisit a book or movie whose plot you know by heart. In the trial before Pontius Pilate, the crowd, which had just praised Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” now yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him! We want Barabbas! Crucify him!” I would remain silent, hoping that it would somehow prevent the inevitable, familiar ending from occurring. But every year, Jesus would be nailed to the cross. Feeling weighed down by his death and seeing many people crying or holding back tears, I wondered what could be done to prevent this from happening again--what could we do to be better? Could my actions make a difference? What if we all loved each other as ourselves and treated each other as God’s children? Could we somehow invent time travel to keep Jesus from standing trial under Pilate and send him to a place far away from Jerusalem on that “Good” Friday?
As I came to understand through the years, nothing we do can change this outcome. Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may be free from sin, free from the worries of the world, free from being trapped in a society that tells us we’re not good enough, we’re not valued as much as the other more important, more popular, more successful, more famous people. This act of love is radical and transformative. This is God’s Grace. This Grace through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection points to liberation and freedom. It points to lifting up the voiceless, the oppressed, the poor, the othered, the kid left alone at the lunch table, the classmate afraid to speak up, the one left out from the cool kids club or team or any social clique. And it frees us from selfishness and sin, making our relationships with God and the neighbor central to our lives.
This love is what Jesus stressed in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), this love for the neighbor is what Jesus lived when he welcomed the othered of his society into his ministry, this is what Jesus did by overturning the tables at the Temple and refusing to submit to Cesar, the ultimate authority in the Roman world. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’...love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus went to the cross and died as the ultimate act of love. We’re all in this crazy thing called life together, so we might as well live out this commandment to fully accept Jesus’ loving act. Freedom and liberation in our individual lives happens when we look out for our neighbor. And when we turn away from our neighbor, God’s Grace holds us close, ready to teach us to forgive and learn to love more deeply and fully, as God loves us.
TIME TO CHAT.
Who is your neighbor? How do you love your neighbor? How do you feel when you look out for someone else? How does standing up for what’s right relate to loving your neighbor? How does doing so make both you and your neighbor feel? Is there a feeling of freedom in this action?
We’re part of a broken world, with a society built to flourish on injustice and inequality. Think of one action you can take this week to help take a step towards realizing those promises of freedom and liberation. Maybe it’s as simple as conserving energy by turning off a light when you’re not using it or reusing a grocery bag. Maybe it’s talking to or looking out for the peer excluded in class, at lunch, at recess, at work. Maybe it’s doing a random act of kindness. Maybe it’s catching up with that friend you haven’t spoken with in a while. Maybe it’s writing a letter to your representatives. Or maybe it’s being curious and asking questions about why we live the way we do.