“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” (John 19:16b-18)
The western philosophical emphasis on the individual, and our culture’s mastery of it, has made Good Friday an even more difficult day for the preacher. When sin is only understood individually this day becomes about convicting you personally. Making you individually feel bad for causing Jesus’ death.
Yet that is not what sin is. Yes, our actions, or failures to act, individually are sin. But if we hold to the confessions of our church we remember sin is more than actions, it is our state of being. We are born without fear and trust in God and so instead seek after things of this world that promise us safety and security. We participate in systems/institutions that are inherently sinful and that sin must be recognized.
Yet our mastery of individualism obscures this reality because everything, even church, is marketed individually to you for your personal consumption. This is what makes it difficult to talk about systemic issues in our society such as racism, sexism, white supremacy, economic injustice, environmental degradation. In the face of these huge systemic issues we retreat to our individualism and say “but not me!”
And the church, in our sin, to this day, overly emphasizes some actions as sins to be highlighted. And some people, particularly women and sexual minorities, as more sinful because of who they are. That also is sin.
Jesus was crucified by a system, a massive institution, known as the Roman empire. He was crucified because he challenged the powers of this world, including political and religious authorities, with a different message. A message not of systemic power and control, benefiting some, but of God’s desire for us all to have life, and have it abundantly.
If sin was simply an individual thing you wouldn’t need Christ on the cross. You could perhaps, with enough will power, eliminate sin from your life. This is unfortunately the message too often subtly and sometimes not so subtly proclaimed in many pulpits. You can eliminate sin from your life and not be like “those people.” If you think this isn’t attractive, remember all those who have striven to do so throughout history. Martin Luther was plagued by this notion that he could will himself to not sin.
When we recognize sin as our state of collective being we open ourselves to end the competition of whose sin is worse. We can structure our ethics and our lives in ways that value God’s gift of life, life given on a cross, and God’s desire of life for our neighbor. We then can look for ways we can change systems to benefit all, especially those on the margins, and work to name and deconstruct power and privilege for some at the expense of others.
That sin is our way of being makes baptism all the more important. In your baptism you join Christ in his death. The only death you need to fear. And in this moment the collective becomes individual, it is in fact about you. You matter to God, your sinfulness does matter and your sin has a cost.
You did in fact crucify Jesus, as did I, because the reality of our sin is that we participate in empires of domination big and small throughout God’s world. Good Friday is a day to make the individual collective and the collective individual. To speak a word that Christ on the cross is not simply one more thing for you to consume to justify your way of being in the world. That his death in solidarity with all who suffer and die under oppression is for you but is also to change you. Not to make you sinless, but to bring you and your neighbor life together.
“Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.” -Ah Holy Jesus (Heerman, 1630)