Earlier this week, a man I had never met handed me one of those “Don’t wait until it’s too late on the highway to hell” tracts. “This is for you,” he said, and quickly exited the campus where I am working this year in Guatemala. He had been staying at our guesthouse.
Not a word of relational greeting, not a gesture of farewell, but, for him, an act of faithful mission accomplished, the first in a busy day ahead, I presume, in a foreign land. Duty bound and driven. I offered simple thanks and walked to my office, watching my emotions flicker between mild surprise, adrenalized offense, the dim glow of dormant anxiety, some reflective affirmation for a life of commitment and compassion for what seems to me a misguided purpose.
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have been touted for centuries as the defining events, the sin qua non of Christianity. There is no denying their powerful drama. And a million words have been used to amplify, to give religious meaning, to add utility and certainly worldly power to them, whatever anyone may or may not think regarding a greater divine purpose.
Where Christianity as it has overwhelmingly been known leaves the tracks for me is in blood sacrifice and redemption. The history of our human enterprise of religion is rife with efforts to appease and manipulate the gods. In this view of the crucifixion, Christianity finally trumps all with God swooping in and sweeping aside the rest. Finished at last with every failed attempt of the imperfect priest, God sticks it to his own perfect incarnation. At last, blood that is good enough to cover your sins and mine, if we just believe in time. And watch out for that devil, stealthily tricking you into delay until it’s too late.
There is, I believe, a healthy alternative.
Come, oh come, Emmanuel. God with us. God dying with us. The God in us willing to live, and if necessary die, alongside our suffering neighbor.
The distinctive call of the true Christian, the follower of Jesus, is the recognition, as with the Buddha, of suffering as the nature of our existence. And when Christianity really gets it right, where Jesus really got it right, is in the commitment to engage, to join in the suffering of others as the doorway to transcendence for all concerned. In that light, the crucifixion and resurrection stand as powerful metaphors.
I am reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. If you have read it, you will understand that I am waking at night with stark visions of unspeakable horrors inflicted on slaves to assure economic privilege and access to wanton depravity. And I live this year in a country where hundreds of thousands of indigenous passed through and died in a similar hell for the same reasons as little as 30 years ago. Last week ICE raided a dairy farm in Upstate New York, Syria used chemical weapons against its own and stories of atrocities surfaced from every corner of the globe.
There is no greater hell than the one created by human forces of fear, greed and power, served fresh daily to millions of the innocent on our planet Earth. We need no other. A tract of the Gospel, of all things. It’s difficult to think of a more twisted profanity than scaring the suffering with hell in the name of Jesus.
The crucifixion of Jesus, the lynching of Black folk in America, the trafficking of women and children for depravity and profit, the bombing and burning of anyone to crush a perceived enemy with fear. There is quite enough blood with far too little redemption.
God with us comes in the hands and feet of those who walk with the suffering in the face of fear, who accept the cross, the noose, the rape and castration, the bullet and blade of every human prince of darkness. God with us is the resurrection of community in the face of oppression, the dance of kindness under the Tree of Life.
© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078. Click FOLLOW above to be notified of future posts.