The fifth page for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009
In my sermon this Sunday I told the heart-breaking story of Dr. Janusz Korczak, one of countless victims of the Holocaust brought down on Jewish people during the madness of the Third Reich. Korczak was a paediatrician, an author, a teacher, and a tireless advocate for the rights of children. He founded an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, Poland. When Warsaw was occupied by the Wehrmacht, Korczak and the children under his care were moved into the newly created ghetto, partitioned from the “Aryan” side of the city.
In August of 1942, the order came down that the children and staff of the orphanage were to be “deported” to the East. This was the euphemism for being loaded onto trains for transport to the gas chambers at Treblinka, northeast of Warsaw. Korczak’s biographers have reported that he was offered several opportunities to escape the “deportation”, possibly because of his prominence as an author of beloved children’s books, as well several outstanding works of educational philosophy.
Korczak refused to leave “his children”. He did all that he could to lessen the anxiety and the fear of the children as they were paraded from their quarters to the train yards. He boarded the train with the children, was taken to Treblinka, and none of them were ever seen again. There are memorials to Korczak and the children in a cemetery in Warsaw, at Treblinka, and in Israel.
As we make our way into Holy Week, and towards Good Friday, we are again confronted with the ghastly reality of Jesus’ death on the cross. In my own contemplation, I have struggled to make the distinction between a sacrificial death, such as that of Janusz Korczak, and a required sacrifice. I can honour the courage and nobility of any person who would live and die for others. I see that courage and nobility in Jesus, and in others. But that does not mean I believe that God desires such things to happen.
I no longer believe what I was taught in Sunday School: that Jesus’ death on the cross was a required and necessary part of God’s plan. Because Adam and Eve had sinned, and gone against God's will, every person who was ever born, was born in sin- they were dirty with sin. The only way for any of us to get clean was to be washed in the blood of Jesus.
Am I over-stating the case? Think of these words from the old hymn, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away”: "He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood."
Why would God, who made the whole universe, and made all the rules, set things up so that the only option was for Jesus to be killed?
I struggled with these questions as a child, and wrestled with them more intently as an adolescent. I have now reached a place in which I feel able to say, “No!” This way of thinking about Jesus’ death may satisfy certain human tendencies, but I do not believe that it reflects God’s will.
I will say more about this in my sermon on Good Friday, and then post that sermon as an extra “fifth page” for this week.