Surely, it is not so much the death of Jesus that is redemptive, but his presence. Jesus often spoke of his presence. He said such things as “I am with you always”; “Do not be afraid, I am with you”.
The emphasis on the physical violence of the Passion and the death of Jesus causes me to reconsider traditional assumptions about soteriology, which is the saving power of Christ’s passion and death.
The death of Jesus challenges us to think very carefully on the assumptions that can be contained in the idea that God sent His Son to suffer or that he sent His Son to the cross to make up for the insult that our sins show to the majesty of God. Does this not suggest a vindictive God? It flies in the face of all Jesus shows of his relationship with the one he called “Abba” and his behaviour, particularly to people who were broken or had failed.
Jesus is true to his word right up to the final moments on the cross on Calvary. He stayed true to his word. His presence does not waver. But his disciples were not true to their word. Jesus stood and remained present. They were absent. They turned and walked, or rather, ran away. They distanced themselves from their faithful friend.
Jesus has said by his words and actions that God has a special love for people who are crushed by life and pushed to the edges into a shadow existence. He touches the untouchable leper; He lifts up the little girl as his touch brought life coursing again into her body; He invites himself to dine in the home of the hated tax-collector Zacchaeus; From his bent-down position, he ‘looked up’ at the woman accused of adultery and sent her, free and forgiven, into the rest of her life.
Calvary shows us, in a remarkable way, how hard it is to practise what we preach. Jesus faces the anger and fear of the people who walk away from him when he says he is the ’bread of life’. He asks his disciples “Will you also go away?” as they struggle with what it means to follow him and to share his vision for changing life for the better.
Life teaches us that it is not always easy to be present. That is perhaps how we come to see the difference between the faithfulness of God and our tendency to run when we are challenged to stand by what we believe.
“Having loved those who were his in the world, He loved them to the end.” He loved us to the limit. Surely this is what needs to be echoed in all our relationships – parents to children, brother to brother, friend to friend, ourselves to strangers and outsiders and those we serve. It applies specially to those times when sickness or unfaithfulness or pain or boredom threaten the promises we have made.
Jesus’ presence of love does not waver even as he sweats the blood of terror; his forgiveness is stronger than rejection and failure; these are the things that “save us”.
Calvary and the Cross are unshakeable reminders that LOVE is stronger than death. As we risk being swamped by life, we need the healing presence of Christ. When we remember this love and this presence, we can put things together again and to see life not only in its pain but in its promise and possibility.
Fr. Kevin Dance CP is the vicar of the St.Brigid’s Retreat, Marrickville. He is very actively involved in ministries locally and at Passionist International where he served as the Executive Director for many years.