When meditating during Passion Week, I often repeat this mantra:
- Jesus dies instead of us.
- Jesus dies with us.
- Jesus dies to show us the way.
- Jesus invites us to die with him.
The first, third, and fourth items are taken directly from something that I heard Scot McKnight mention one time. The third is my own addition.
The first item suggests themes of substitution – Jesus takes our place and endures death and hell instead of us.
The second item suggests themes of solidarity – Jesus knows about the suffering of the least among us because he himself has suffered in the way that they do.
The third item suggests moral influence – Jesus refuses to take up the sword against the powers, but instead speaks out against them, even though it invites death. He shows us a way that both rejects and confronts injustice without resort to violence. This shows us the way out of the spiral of violence.
The fourth item suggests self-denial. Jesus’ death invites us to give up our old selves, trusting that in the death of our old self, God will raise us to a new self.
For me, it is important not to think any one of these holds the one “true” meaning. I often bristle at substitution, and I am too easily swayed to moral influence. I need to avoid both temptations.
When you settle in comfortably into any one of these ideas, to the exclusion of the others, you lose out on a part of the mystery of the atonement. The challenge of walking through the Passion with Jesus is to understand that all of them, in their own way, are true at the same time.