A Provocation: Good Friday and the Cross

This is the decisive day for Christians.

We have theologies named after the events of this day.

We sing songs about this day all year long.

We preach Christmas sermons that insist on establishing links between the baby in the manger and the cross.

And tomorrow those of us who join in Good Friday worship will listen to those of you who preach as you explore the cross.

I will not pretend to speak for all of us who listen. I will not presume to issue dictums worthy of coming down from either Mount Olympus or Mount Sinai. I will not even claim that my Provocation exhausts my own reflections. This is simply a word or two from one who listens.

  1. Though my family and I are members of a congregation by the name of “Holy Cross,” there is nothing holy about the cross. The cross is obscene. The cross is violent. The cross is an instrument of torture, and nothing else. It is not a tool that any God worthy of the name picks up to work a holy and Divine purpose in the world. It is a tool of every enemy of human life and of the flourishing freedom of God’s Creation.
  2. That means that every theology that employs a god who needs the cross to express or expel or expiate “divine” wrath is an anti-theology.
  3. We still crucify people, though not with actual crosses, for the most part. Torture is still, and will always be, a tool used by those with power to destroy the hope of those without power. Any way we do that acts out what the cross was when Jesus was nailed to one.
  4. That means that anyone who has electrodes applied to his testicles knows the essential truth of crucifixion. As does anyone who is raped by squads of soldiers. As does anyone who is water boarded, or worse.
  5. Which means that anytime any of those things is done to anyone, Christians who look for the face of God in the world will not see it in the face of the torturers, even when the torturer wears our uniform or ideology or expresses anger we wish we could express.
  6. To the extent that the face of God may be seen in the world, it will be seen in the face of the ones who are tortured.
  7. This is true even when it is an enemy of ours who is tortured.

Kurt Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse Five, notes that Christians have misread the Good Friday story, imagining that the point of the story is that the torturers thought they were crucifying a nobody, only to discover that they were crucifying the Ultimate Somebody, the Word Made Flesh. Therefore, the point is misread as: never crucify a Somebody. The corollary of this misreading has been that there are, indeed, nobodies who CAN be tortured.

The character speaking for Vonnegut notes that point should have been that Jesus was a nobody. God raised him from death to make clear to a world that will always torture that there are NO nobodies. Nobody can be tortured. Nobody. Not any body.

Not even on Good Friday.

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