Ever since the church became alligned with the power of Rome (Holy Roman Empire), salvation in the Christian tradition has required a sacrifice: namely Jesus’. While one can interpret scripture to confirm this, there are also passages in the Bible that affirm a different reality. I am thinking of a passage in the book of Acts as just one example. Peter and the others have their second run-in with the Sanhedrin, the council of Pharisees, etc. (Acts 4:12-42) They were locked up in the public prison, miraculously released by an angel of the Lord whereupone they promptly returned to the Temple to continue in their vocation, proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Christ.
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name (i.e. Jesus),” the religious leaders protest. Peter proceeds to dress them down for the public lynching of Jesus. Peter is making a judicial charge, charging these men with having Jesus killed by hanging him on a tree. No mention is made of a cross, of a sacrifice. The plans they had to silence the teaching of Jesus cannot be permanent or final, because the decision to kill Jesus is not God’s decision. God’s response to the decision to kill Jesus is a decided, definite, “No.” This is the power of resurrection.
There are MANY problems with making the crucifixion the keystone for salvation. If God needs Jesus killed for our salvation, God is culpable in the murder of Jesus; this is an abusive parent! If suffering brings salvation, then it becomes all too easy to justify and even glorify the suffering people experience. Peter’s accusation, that Jesus was lynched, should make us wary to consider crucifixion as a necessary part of our salvation. Would we say that the countless lynchings of innocent African Americans in our nation’s history is redemptive, leading eventually to the end of segrgation and the beginning of a more just and free society for all people? I would hope not. The brutal killing of Black people in our country provokes in most of us intense remorse and even anger. It hopefully provokes in us a determination to be a different kind of people, a different kind of nation.
Sacrificial death is NOT necessary for salvation, in spite of what the theological establishment might want to assert. Will my views/interpretation which is also held by other Christians, clergy and lay alike, eventually win out? I’m not particularly hopeful about that, but then again, I do believe in resurrection, ultimate hope. This is the gospel I proclaim. Therefore, I must speak up and out about what violates this hope. Sacrificial death violates this hope, the hope that calls us not to embrace suffering, but to alleviate it. Jesus died on a cross for commiting treason against the Roman Empire. His death is a sign of what corrupt power can and will do. His resurrection is the sign of what God can and will do.