Meditation for Good Friday

Daniel Bonnell's - Color of Red - crucifixion

There is a song/hymn that we often sing in Church called “In Christ Alone”. Part of one of the verses runs like this:

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

It is a great hymn but there are some words that have always worried me. The phrase is the top two lines. Because is that what happened? That God was sooooo angry with us that He had to put His Son on to a cross?

This is know as the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. The idea that our sins have led us to being alienated from God and as a result we deserve punishment. God, out of love, intervenes by sending His Son to die in our place as the just payment for our sins to assuage the wrath He feels towards us because of our sins.

Now there are problems with this approach.

What does it say of the nature of the Father that he lets His Son sit in our place? Is it that God the Father cannot control His own anger and needs to be placated by His Son?

But there is another way of looking at things.

This doesn’t mean that we have to go down the route of the “Buddy Christ”. Where Christ is your buddy and everything is cool. Too often when we want to avoid our own sin and to avoid the cost we can all too easily create a parody of Christ as in the “Buddy Christ” of the film Dogma.

Buddy Christ from the film Dogma

Buddy Christ

Instead of both of these there is another way of seeing what God was up to in the crucifixion.

We start off with Sin. Sin is both real and has real consequences. We have both personal sin and corporate sin.

We see this all too often.

We see this when we see people making choices that lead to bad consequences. We make choices every day and some of them are for selfish reasons that lead to serious situations for others. Some are obvious and extreme. Someone knocks someone over and drives off without stopping. Others can appear more subtle. We only consider our own needs and not those of others. We drink too much too often which can lead to relational breakdowns.

We live in a society that appears not only fractured but fracturing yet further. Where suspicion, disconnect and fear all seem to play a large part.

How would someone reach into this mess to help us and to save us?

Of course, some could use it to create a dictatorship and over the centuries that has happened many times (from the fall of the Roman and Greek Republic’s onwards). And some want an authoritarian God. One who will tell us exactly what to do and when.

But what if you were concerned about changing how we saw one another and God? What if you were concerned not about power but about helping people see things differently? What would you do then? If you were concerned to create something new that had self-sacrificing love as the yardstick?

In my Palm Sunday meditation I quoted a passage from 1 John 4:

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Then there would only be one real way of doing that. By entering into the mess yourself and getting your hands dirty.

God is love. That is at the centre of our faith.

God is love – self-giving, sacrificial love.

God who dies for the sake of the world.

God who takes the sins of the world, personal and corporate, upon Himself and who in Himself takes  the consequences on Himself.

Who by doing so gives us the chance to change and start afresh.

At the heart of all is not the propitiating the wrath of God. At the heart of it is a God of love who calls us into His image and likeness.

Paul writes:

Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

To no longer live for ourselves but for him.

It’s a radical solution to a deep and real problem.

But that is what we are offered at the cross.

So, lets re-write the hymn:

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The love of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

I think that the picture by Daniel Bonnell called The Dove and the Eucharist (below) gets it right. Whereby we remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross when we take the Eucharist and Jesus gives us His Spirit to live this sacrificial life out.

Daniel Bonnell's - The Dove and the Eucharist

Other Meditations for Holy Week:

Last year’s meditations for Holy Week start here:
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2 comments on “Meditation for Good Friday

  1. Willow Feller
    April 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    So happy to stumble upon this blog. As a former church musician, I, too, have cringed a bit when singing that verse. Substituting “love” for “wrath” certainly seems to make a necessary reparation. Thank you for an insightful Good Friday post.

  2. Will Cookson
    April 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Thank you. We have substituted the word for some years now at our church and it works well. It was, I think, the theologian Tom Wright who first cam up with the idea.

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