For many Christians, Easter is one of their high holy holidays. It’s their religious bedrock that not only anchors them in their faith, but it also shapes and governs them in their view of the world.
I’m one of them.
The author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis eloquently captures it for me when he wrote in his 1945 essay Is Theology Poetry?: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
My passion for Easter is like that of C.S. Lewis’s passion for the whole of Christianity: “not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” That everything else, for me, is learning to see those at the margins of society.
It is at the margins of society where you can see injustice being done.
It is not only a site where you can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keeps us wounded as a people, but it is also a site that can heal us as a people—both the oppressed and the oppressor. As a figure that has dominated Western culture and Christianity, Jesus’ death forces me to remember his life and times as one on the margins of society. Every Easter I reexamine the causes of his crucifixion, gleaning new insights each time.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was unquestionably a threat to the social and political status quo. Viewed as a religious threat because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish law, and as a political threat to the Roman government because of his popularity among the poor and oppressed, Jesus was nailed to a cross, an attempt by those in power to eliminate him.
It would be an egregious omission to gloss over the unrelenting violence that took place during Jesus’ time.
This omission of violence would be especially egregious in light of the ongoing violence in today’s society toward people of color, women, Jews, Muslims, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to name a few. It is sometimes said in many traditional Christian churches that “Jesus died for our sins.” Such language masks the reality that Jesus died “because of our sins”—our intolerance, our hatred, our violence.
The image of Jesus as the “suffering servant” has served to ritualize suffering as redemptive. While suffering points to the need for redemption, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive. Furthermore, the belief that undeserved suffering is to be endured through faith can encourage the powerful to be insensitive to the suffering of others and forces the less powerful to be complacent to their suffering – maintaining the status quo.
For example, an as an instrument for execution by Roman officials Jesus’ suffering on the cross should never be seen as redemptive any more than the suffering of African-American men dangling from trees in the South during Jim Crow America. The lynchings of African-American men were never as restitution for the sins of the Ku Klux Klan, but were, instead, because of their sins that went, for decades, unaccounted for until the 1951 Federal Anti-Lynching Act was passed.
In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross and the lynching of African-Americans are synonymous experiences.
As a deeply controversial icon in Christian liberation theologies for many feminists, womanists, African Americans, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender religious scholars the cross is the locus of redemption.
It serves as a lens to critically examine and make the connections between the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brought about the suffering Jesus endured during his time to the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brings about the suffering which women, people of color and sexual minorities are enduring in our present day.
When suffering is understood as an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for, we can then begin to see its manifestation in systems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and religion-based bigotry not only in our everyday lives but also in the world.
With a new understanding about suffering and how it victimizes the innocent and its aborts the Christian mission of inclusiveness, Jesus’ death at Calvary invites a different hermeneutic than its classically held one.
So, when the Christian community looks at the cross this Easter Sunday, we must see not only Jesus there, but the many other faces and bodies that are crucified along with his around the world, too. And, in so doing, we deepen our solidarity with all who suffer at the margins of society; thereby, seeing those who are in our midst.
Photo via flickr user Toronto