Betrayal by his friends and colleagues, condemnation by the community that raised him, scorn and mockery, taunting and humiliation, torture, an excruciating execution, and finally death. As we reflect on this, our Lord’s Passion, the thing that seems most important is that question why did he do it?
The answer may seem familiar to you, but I’d like to take the time to tell the story of the answer to this question as it played it out in my own life. And it’s my prayer that something in this story will resonate with you today.
It was late spring/early summer in my little town of Berrien Springs in rural Michigan. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, but if you had the chance to see me that day, I suspect that you would have assumed that the sky was slate gray from the brooding, stormy, look on my face. I had a copy of the complete works of William James in my hand (I was in college), and I was seriously thinking about throwing this Christianity thing in the garbage and becoming perhaps a religious skeptic like James was. Because I realized that the Church I loved didn’t really love people like me.
To be a gay college student in a rural Midwest Christian college town, is very challenging. Especially if you were a Theology major, which I was at the time. But it didn’t bother me much at first. I’d grown up in a very unique version of conservative Christianity that my whole family had, in one way or another, dedicated their lives to for generations. And I fully expected to continue in their footsteps. When it slowly dawned on me in High-School that I was “one of those”, people, I thought to myself that as long as I followed the rules of our denomination, which was if you’re gay don’t be in any relationships, I was fine. So I’d just ignore that part of life, and get on with the rest of it. A recent Presidential candidate who grew up not 20 minutes south of where I lived in a similar climate didn’t come out of the closet until he was 34! And I definitely planned to exceed that example.
It was fine, for a while. But as the controversy about whether gay relationships were valid heated up in my denomination, and the topic of gay Christians started to be discussed more and more on my college campus, I began to realize that what I believed didn’t just affect me and my personal life, it affected the lives of all of the other people around me. The people I was hoping to minister too. I also realized that in regions of the world where people who thought like my Church did had more influence in the political process, being gay was illegal. People went to jail. Were being tortured and beaten, even killed. Just for who they were. And the reasons given for this brutal treatment were often the same arguments that my Denomination made for why they were against gay relationships. In some of these countries, the people making these arguments were members of my own church.
I began to realize that these teachings caused harm, but, even more significantly, I began to realize that we didn’t HAVE to teach these things. We were choosing to interpret and apply the Bible in ways that were causing people unnecessary harm, for reasons that had nothing to do with science or facts, but only a conviction, that a group of people were inferior to others. And realizing that the Church that I loved, that had taught me to love others, to be just and honest and true and good, and fight for the oppressed, and stand up to things that caused others harm. That this Church that I had dedicated my life to could be involved in anything like that. It broke me.
I realized for the first time that my Church wasn’t safe for me or people like me. And if my church wasn’t safe, what Church was? Maybe Christianity was too dangerous a faith to be a part of. Maybe all religion was. This is where I was at that sunny day, as I wandered the roads of my little town.
But as I walked along the road a song started playing in my head:
“Jesus, blood, never failed me yet, never failed me yet, Jesus blood, never failed me yet, this one thing I know, that he loves me so”.
Again and again that song penetrated my head and my heart. I repeated it over and over as I walked along the road. I thought about all the good things God had done for me and my family through the years. All the miracles wrought, all the strength our faith had given us, all the love we experienced as members of this flawed, broken, but spirit infused body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I reflected on the One who chose, of His own free will to become incarnate by the virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and was buried for me and for you and for everyone. And I looked up at that sunny sky and I said: “Jesus, I know who you are. You would never give up on me, so I won’t give up on you”.
I made a lot of changes in my life after that. But as you can see, I’m still here, in the Christian faith, because of this night when God, who so loved the world, gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. That’s John 3:16. 1 John 3:16 says: “We know love by this that he laid down his life for us”.
So why did Jesus suffer all of these things? Why did he die, such an ignominious death? And why does it matter? It matters because every time we hear this story on Good Friday, we remember once again about Christ’s love that can change our lives and transform our world into the paradise of love and friendship that it was always meant to be.