Last weekend – Easter – was a time where all Christians remember the tragic end of Jesus’ life, as well as the miraculous raising of Jesus the Christ from his death. The week prior to Jesus’ death – Holy Week – is one where Christians focus on Jesus’ arrival and entry into Jerusalem, the hub of Israeli and Jewish power, amid excited and adoring crowds. As we read through and remembered this tragic story, we heard and saw the excitement and adoration of the people quickly turn, resulting in a call by the people to kill – crucify! – this man they so enthusiastically welcomed. Not only do the people cry for his death, but they answer Pilate’s question by declaring let “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). The multitude, in other words, embrace the responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion, whereas Pilate, ironically, acts like a good Israelite seeking to separate himself from a deed that violates covenant justice (Gardner, 390). The result of the people’s eagerness, which was fed, we are told, by the chief priests and elders’ ability to persuade the multitude, lead to the death of Jesus on the cross.
My fear, however, as we remember the horrible and horrific event of the crucifixion, is that we have forgotten much of its significance, both historically in Jesus’ time and for us today. What we now call the “substitutionary atonement theory” has understood the cross primarily as the beginning of salvation, and not also as the culmination of a radical life lived within an Empire. This theory has tended to disconnect the life-path chosen by Jesus from the salvation attributed to the cross. The cross, as represented in the New Testament, is both an end and a beginning. It demonstrates the predictable end of life lived in service to the Kingdom of God within an Empire. It also invites us into a future in which the power of this life-ending cross becomes the power of a cross-initiated life.
“When religion ruled the world, they called it the Dark Ages.”
That was the bumper sticker quote I read on the tailgate of a white minivan during my morning’s commute to work. Upon reading, I had so many adverse gut-reactions to this statement.
That’s so closed minded. And, Aside from a few erroneous events, don’t you know how much good Christianity has done for the world? And, I am sure you have all the answers to all the world’s problems then don’t you, Mr. White Minivan? (Amusingly, the sticker on the opposite side of the tailgate read “I think, therefore I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh,” to which I thought, Meh, fair enough.)
Once I worked through my initial feelings of angst though, I reflected on those words a bit more. I realized maybe he has a point. When religion rules, things generally do not go well for the people practicing it, or for those who are being subjected to the religious standards.