In the middle of yesterday afternoon, a friend texted to let me know that our government had dropped a bomb on Afghanistan. And so all evening, as we gathered around tables and broke bread and shared wine, I had that image in the back of my mind: the image of our own capacity to kill, and of our fearsome eagerness to use it.
At the start of our worship, a monk rose and read a lesson from Exodus, the instructions for sacrificing the Passover lamb: Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household…. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. Behind those words, I seemed to hear the drone of a plane, the slow opening of a cargo hold, the silent fall of death. The passage is striking in its ambivalence: God as dealer of death and of life, God as the one who judges, by what tenets we cannot know.
How different are the actions that Jesus gives us his last night: Washing the feet of those he loves. Kneeling before our humanity, even knowing that we will give him up to death. Offering his body. Offering his blood. For a Christian, these reveal the true nature of God: the God who serves, the God who loves, the God who offers himself to spare us.
Earlier this week, Sean Spicer scandalized our nation when he casually said, “he [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people.” It was a bizarre thing to say about a leader who had, in fact, killed eleven million people in the gas chamber. But, I have to say, Spicer was right. Hitler did not gas “his own” people; he gassed God’s people. Hitler did not own the people whom he gassed, nor was their ultimate loyalty given to him. People should not be in that kind of relationship with one another. If we even begin to think it, we begin to divide our world: “our” people/ not “our” people.
Scripture says otherwise. The only people we can gas are God’s people. The only people we can bomb are God’s people. The only people we can starve, torture, rape, imprison, or kill on the streets are God’s people. There are no people who do not belong to God.
This day, Good Friday, makes that clear. When Christ was crucified, hanging between two criminals, he chose to die with the lost. He chose to die with the broken, with the outcast, with the shameful, with those who were filled with shame. And he died, not only with them, but for them. We cannot claim that he died for us, but not for others whose sins are as red as ours. We cannot claim that he has saved us, without acknowledging that he has offered that salvation even to those we despise. We cannot claim that his mercy does not extend to the godless, to the pagan, to those who practice other religions or none — not when he cried out, with his dying breath, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How quickly we arrogate to ourselves the prerogatives of God, weighing and judging and dealing out death– forgetting that, in the Passover story, the greatness of God was shown, not in the slaughter, but in the fact that some were spared. The Talmud, the ancient commentary that forms the core of the Jewish faith, writes that as the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, the angels in heaven began to sing and to praise God, but God waved them to silence. And staring into their shocked faces, he asked, “My children are perishing, and do you rejoice?”
The God we worship does not rejoice in the death of the wicked, but rather that they may turn from their sin and be saved. What does it mean to love the wicked? Look on his face, and see.