They laid Jesus in the tomb. A tomb cut out of the rock of the garden. A tomb of stone with a large stone standing in front of the entrance as a door, as a barrier, as a wall. The stone represents the end. Nothing else can happen now. There is such a sense of finality to the ending of the story today. We know death. We have experienced death in our lives before. Death is the end. We see Jesus finish his earthly mission and accomplish everything the Father has sent him to do. I wonder if he felt any sense of relief or success in completing his mission. Yet, it looks so much like failure. There is such a sense of loss. The Messiah, the Christ, the Rabbi Jesus is dead.
Naturally, the first question after any loss is why? Even if there exists a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a person died, it is never enough to comfort the bereaved after the loss of a loved one. The disciples must have asked this question as we do today. Why? Why did Jesus die? The most direct answers to the question also leave much to be desired. Jesus died because of fear, because he had to, because it was the only way to show us how much God loves us and set us free.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because of human fear. At that time, fear in the midst of the leaders, fear of uprising, fear of the unknown, fear of people being, saying, believing, and doing differently. Certainly, though, we cannot blame those at the time for their fear. We have the same fear living inside of ourselves. It comes out in our prejudices, it comes out in our ability to allow people to fall through the cracks, it comes out in our desire to stay within groups of like-minded people. We hold on to those same fears as the people living in ancient Palestine. We have for generations and centuries. Fear is many times as much as an end as death. We cannot get past our fear.
Thankfully, fear is not the only reason Jesus died. Jesus most definitely could have saved himself. Jesus' death is an event which people have dissected for centuries. However you look at it though, Jesus died because he had to. Jesus in a way, allowed himself to be killed. He sacrificed himself upon our fear to show us a better way. Not once does Jesus act out in fear during the events leading up to his death. Jesus' death is not a ransom for a vengeful God - no, Jesus gives of himself. Its an act of self-giving that many of us cannot fathom, our sense of self-preservation is too strong. Jesus gives everything he has and is, his mission, his ministry, his family, his life. We may never be able to understand why he had to die.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because it was the only way to show us how much God loves us and to set us free. Really? Death was the only way? I think of the story of Lazarus and the rich man, who asks Abraham to send Lazarus back as a dead man raised to go speak to his brothers. Yes, really, it was the only way. The largest things holding us back from life, from love, from freedom, are fear, sin, and death. Jesus had to go through those things in order to be able to save us from them.
During the season of Lent, the Adult Formation group discussed six heresies that have to do with Jesus' nature. The first question we discussed was whether or not God does suffer. The orthodox position, the non-heretical position, on this question is that God in human form did suffer as Jesus. In his suffering, as both divine and human, Jesus bridges the gap between human beings and God, a gap which only exists because of fear, sin, and death. Through Jesus we have a way to encounter, engage with, and become one with God.
Through breaking death, God saves all of us from our sins and the power of death. In Jesus' death, there is hope. There is not only a promise of forgiveness, but a very concrete act of forgiveness. By taking on the consequences of our actions, by removing them, Jesus opens up the possibility that we might live freely in gratitude and peace.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died for us. We celebrate and we memorialize this every year. Jesus' death is both a very communal event and a very personal one. We come together to stand at the foot of the cross, at the door of the tomb to witness to Jesus' death. To witness to the insufficient reasons that the Son of God had to die. To witness to the loss that we feel. To witness to the end of a way of life on earth. Jesus died for us and we come together today to remember his sacrifice on our behalf.