Theology grows out of the practice of the people and not the other way around. People began honoring the date of Jesus’ crucifixion and then developed the theology of why they do this. Remembering the anniversary of a loved ones’ death was not an unheard of practice but it was generally reserved for those who knew the deceased.
There was a need in the early church to explain this commemoration long after anyone alive remembered Jesus personally. There was a need in the early church to explain how a loving God could allow the death of Jesus by crucifixion. The early Christians scoured the scriptures [these would be the Hebrew writings, both canon and apochrophal] to find anything that might be a prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ life. As they did they found references of the sacrificial lamb and the scape goat that would atone for sins. They applied these references to explain the events of the crucifixion and made remembrance of his death a holy day. However, it is a disservice to make the focus of an entire life on the last fleeting hours. [Mel Gibson are you listening?] It is also a bit of a paradox to call the day commemorating a crucifixion as good.
People often quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son so that whosever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Many read this verse then go directly (in their minds at least) to the crucifixion of Jesus as what it means to give up an only son.
However, this does not logically work for me. If Jesus is indeed the only son of God, then it was not at the crucifixion that God gave Jesus to save the world but rather at his birth. Jesus lived a life that was a profound example of how all people could live their lives. His death did not seal the deal, it was just a result of the many things that happen to all prophets who are not welcomed in their land. Socrates, Servetus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Norbet Capek are just a few of the prophets that have graced our land who were not welcomed and like Jesus were killed. There are also those who lived out their natural days; Buddha, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and Thomas Merton. Jesus could have easily ended his life on earth with an ascension like Enoch in the Hebrew Scriptures. [Luke’s gospel thought this reference was important and added it to the Christian texts to take place 40 days after his death and resurrection.] His life did not need to end in crucifixion in order to make his message more profound.
It does not make sense that God as a parent would ask his stronger well behaved and obedient son to accept the punishment for the wrong doing that a weaker perhaps infirmed son had committed. Wouldn’t it show more of God’s love and grace to offer forgiveness to the weaker perhaps infirmed child? And be an example to the stronger son of what comprises true compassion? (I believe I am paraphrasing Rev. William Channing in his “Unitarian Christianity” sermon of 1819)
The gift that God bestowed to the earth then was not the death and resurrection of Jesus but rather the life of one who so embodies the principles which we hold dear. The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. These first three principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith are based, not solely, but certainly primarily on the life of Jesus. It is the life of Jesus that is the extraordinary gift and the focus of those who wish to follow in his footsteps and be called Christians. The impact on the world would be great indeed if more people heeded the call of Jesus’ life and spent less time on the ramifications of believing or not the doctrine of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Blessings,