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I have been reading the Japanese 20th century Christian writer Toyohiko Kagawa for Lent. He was a person whose name was said in the same company with Albert Schweitzer and Gandhi. Now he has been forgotten to history’s cruel fate of obscurity. It is unfortunate because he is such an essential spiritual writer for our times. The reason that I have appreciated him over this Lenten time is because he talks frankly about Jesus’ death. He calls it a failure. In that failure Christ identifies with all of the failures that we participate in as humans. So, he does not focus on blood or sacrifice as much as the idea of reconciliation that is possible through God understanding our failure and us being forgiven by God.
In a long passage of his book The Religion of Jesus Kagawa has this reconciliation in mind when he says:
“Jesus thus had sympathy for all the sins of [humankind]. For materialistic failure, He said, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ To the tempted He said, ‘Pray that ye enter not into temptation.’ He showed sympathy to the fallen and degraded: He did not take a critical attitude, but said that He had come to save. Finally, He thought it an element of morality that [humans] should forgive each other; for all [humankind] lives in this imperfect world.”
The only thing that I would add to that is that even in death Christ found it important to herald the idea of forgiveness. From his deadly perch he cried his final prayer, “Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing!” We are called on this night to examine our lives and to move toward forgiveness.
One of the classic allegories of the faith is Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In it we encounter a Pilgrim aptly named Christian who is journeying to find the distant place of wonder called Celestial City. He journeys from his hometown called City of Destruction. He has read a book that has cause a great burden to be placed upon his back, the knowledge of his sin. As Christian moves from different diversions, sins and catastrophes he eventually makes it to a hopeful hill. On top of this hill is a cross and at the bottom is a tomb. He struggles to climb the hill because his baggage is so heavy upon his back. When he reaches the top, standing at the foot of the cross, immediately his burden loosens and falls off his back. The pack rolls down the hill and disappears forever into the grave.
It is time. Let us leave our sins here at this cross. Let’s not fixate on a maudlin display of blood, but turn toward reconciliation with God and our fellow humans. Come forward with your nails, we will nail them to the cross tonight. When you bring them forward think of all those things that you want to let go. We are not naive enough to think that in this one action everything will be better, but it is an action that we take to begin the process of letting go.
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