Category: Lent

Holy Week – Monday: The Old Testament Passage – The start of an eventful week

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)
I am pleased that after checking, I am on course for commenting on the correct topic for the correct scripture passage. Lately I have been getting lost in the days and weeks. But, I am also a little deflated that it is Holy Week that it is time to comment on. The sole reason is that I am still recovering from a cold, and do not feel up to “vigorous” commenting, and commenting for seven days in a row. It is good for me, I know, to turn to scripture and my focus shifted off of me and on to something else. I am afraid though I will give the task “short shrift” and not put forth a full effort. Other years I would intertwine and comment on several passages each day. Today I think I will be doing well if I can do one.
“He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Verses 2 – 3)
I have picked the Old Testament passage. The theme is one of Jesus not shirking the outcome of his ministry on earth. Sort of apropos considering my being tempted to but not shirking the task of commenting each day – even if I focus on just one passage. My other choices were Psalms 36:5-11, Hebrews 9:11-15, and John 12:1-11. The Psalm passage is the one where the opening verse is “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. “ The verse (and others in the passage) are used as song lyrics and when I hear/read the verse I hear the song in my head. Singing is not easy for me right now, so I set that one aside. The Hebrew passage is where Paul refers to Jesus as a high priest (a theme he devotes some time to) but it is early in the week to consider that motif. And the passage from John tells about Mary, sister to Lazarus, anointing Jesus. Some gospels “assign” this task to another woman, not Mary. It too brings to the beginning of the week considerations that are played out at the end of the week.All in all, I think this is a good passage to settle on.
“He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Verse 4)
At the beginning of the week Jesus does not seem like he will ever “grow faint or be crushed.” The temple authorities are fit to be tied, and looking for a way to tie up Jesus and dispose of him. But at this point it does not seem possible that will happen. Jesus power and its source are getting to be pretty unquestionable.
“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Verses 5 – 7)
Yes, Monday of Holy Week Jesus is still carrying forth the mission and message given to him without any problems or complications.
“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Verses 8 – 9)
Yes, beloved reader, I know – I am turning a blind eye to the problems that have been roiling below the surface. Mary’s anointing of Jesus sets Judas’ teeth on edge and he is going to the temple authorities/chief priests. Paul talks about the shedding of the “high priests” blood; and the psalms passage is an ode to the Divine who is in heaven, while Jesus is still on earth. Yes, it is early in the week but things are starting to happen. Hold on – events are starting to unfold! Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific


DAMN. and the Crucified Christ

This week, Rev. Greg Henneman returns to BTSF, partnering with his son, Noah, as they review Kendrick Lamar's new album, DAMN.
So I was takin' a walk the other day, and I seen a woman—a blind woman—pacin' up and down the sidewalk. She seemed to be a bit frustrated, as if she had dropped somethin' and havin' a hard time findin' it. So after watchin' her struggle for a while, I decide to go over and lend a helping hand, you know? "Hello, ma'am, can I be of any assistance? It seems to me that you have lost something. I would like to help you find it." She replied: "Oh yes, you have lost something. You've lost... your life." [sound of a gunshot]
This is the story of Good Friday.

Christians remember Good Friday as the day that Jesus was executed. Fully divine and fully human, Jesus entered human history amongst its struggle and sought to lend a helping hand by modeling a new way to live centered around love of neighbor. Jesus offered assistance. For this, Jesus was killed.

On Good Friday, 2017, these words introduced the release of Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, DAMN. Lamar’s normally aggressive and quick words are countered with softness as the song BLOOD. serves as the album’s preface. At the end of this metaphor, the man offering assistance is killed.

Throughout this album, Kendrick aligns himself with the Crucified Christ. In the song, DNA, Kendrick is both “Yeshua’s new weapon” and seen as “an abomination”. His very DNA places him amongst a minority culture, thus making him a threat, described by the soundbite voice of Geraldo Rivera as being a part of hip hop music which has done “more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.”  Ironically, the song Rivera criticized, Alright, is one in which Kendrick offers hope and encouragement, that against the struggles of life he repeats “we gonna be alright.” “Alright” has become an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, despite the song’s claim of assurance, Black DNA makes him a threat to dominant American culture, just as Jesus’ words of inclusion threatened the political and religious powers of the Roman Empire.

Within popular music, there may not be a more powerful voice in 2017 than Lamar. When Beyoncé had to cancel her Coachella music festival appearance, it was Kendrick that replaced her with a lauded performance. A recent survey of music reviews came to the conclusion that Kendrick is the highest rated performer of the 21st Century.

Despite all of the critical and commercial success, Kendrick does not exalt himself in praise, but places himself amongst struggle. He does not see himself as exalted, but views himself from his Compton roots. He aligns himself more with the Crucified Christ than Glorified God. He wonders if success will last and asks in the song FEAR., “All this money, is God playin' a joke on me? Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?”

Just as Jesus found disciples asleep in the garden and found himself abandoned on the cross, Kendrick’s repeated cry echoes across multiple songs on the album “aint nobody praying for me.”

But while Kendrick often feels trapped within his Compton roots and culturally alienated, he finds unity with God.

The song GOD. unites God’s and Kendrick’s shared perspectives. The song begins with God saying, “this what God feel like.” Kendrick responds that “ever since a young man” God has been watching over him for his whole life. After describing the behaviors Kendrick used to and is still doing Kendrick says “don’t judge me”. and God responds “who are you talking to, do you know who you are talking to”. And then he says all of the things that God says like “everything I touch is a gold mine.” The song finishes with both God’s and Kendrick’s perspective talking with each other.

Kendrick’s struggle, unified with that of the Crucified Christ, is powerful, but is not a lone voice.

The most noteworthy winner at this year’s Grammy’s was Chance the Rapper who despite being a self-published artist without a record label won best new artist, best rap album, and best rap performance. Chance’s lyrics mix unashamed praise for God with the reality of his experience growing up in Chicago. In the midst of singing about praises and blessings, Chance makes the same connection as Kendrick between contemporary struggle and the Crucified Christ with the statement, “Jesus black life ain’t matter.”

The latest album by Logic, “Everybody” is also filled with theological questions. The album includes an exchange with the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the voice of God in which the meaning of life is explored. But as noted in Kendrick Lamar and Change the Rapper, these are not mere philosophical wonderings, but connect to modern life. In the song “Confess” Logic asks: “Dear God, I just wanna know why, Why do you put us here? Why do you put us below? Why do you put us subservient?”

Across the spectrum of modern rap music, questions of where God can be found are being asked. Most often, God is found amongst the struggle. God’s voice is speaking from the streets. The prophetic voice is not only coming from the pulpit, but from the microphone.

Syndicated from By Their Strange Fruit

To Experience Resurrection (a Poem for Holy Week)

You have to return to the tomb

to experience resurrection. 
Return to the place where once
you knew without doubt
all hope was gone, the last
dying gasp of breath expelled.
Then silence, stillness
and the great tearing open
of sky and earth. 

The first sign of spring
is the revelation of all
that’s died.  Snow’s clean
slate hides decay,
but when the sun’s warmth rises
its first disclosure is the depth
of loss – the grass,
brown and trampled, barren
broken limbs scattered, earth
exposed and the empty stretch
of field filled with brown stalks
of decomposition.

This is the time of waiting,
the time in which we grow
weary and lose heart. 

You have to watch the barren
earth, pull back brown leaves,
lean close scanning the hidden
places.  You have to stand beside
the stone, Martha would tell us,
your trembling hand pressed against       
its cold, hard surface.  You have to enter
the dark cave, Peter whispers, not knowing
what you’ll find. 

You have to sit through the long,
dark night to see the first light of morning,        
to feel the sharp intake of breath
as the sky’s closed eye, cold and gray,
cracks open slowly, then with growing
determination.  This is what you must do
to experience resurrection. 
Syndicated from This Contemplative Life

The Savior we Want

Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. . . . Save us—Hosanna in Hebrew—Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118) This is the hymn that…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Waiting for Resurrection

I love to connect with readers, and was thrilled to receive this email comment recently from Shelley K. Hill of Second Baptist Church in Chester, Virginia, reprinted here with her permission:
I am one of the teachers for our Lenten Season this year and we are excited about your book, Christ Is for Us and the journey you are leading us through….We have two Bible study sessions–12 noon and 7pm, both of which have doubled in size since we started this series. We are conducting our evening class in the sanctuary due to the number attending. Thank YOU!!

I am teaching “Waiting for Resurrection” and would love to share any additional insight with the class directly from you….I would be thrilled and honored to hear from you….

I asked Shelley if she might have a specific question for me to answer for her group, and even better than that she sent this reflection:
I am curious as to how you arrived at the title for the fifth Sunday of Lent, “Waiting for Resurrection.” I am fascinated by the word “wait” and all it implies for us on our Christian journey. Psalm 27 implores us to wait on the Lord. Revelation calls us to wait as it speaks to us of things to come. But what happens during the period of waiting? Are we waiting for Easter Sunday to be reminded of how Jesus suffered for our iniquities?  Or is it that God is waiting for us to be resurrected —revived to a new way of thinking and living so that He can shower us with His faithful love?
I appreciate Shelley’s question about the title, Waiting for Resurrection. Titles often come in the midst of my writing or even after a piece of writing seems otherwise finished. But in this case, the title emerged as I pondered the designated lectionary Scripture texts for the week and before I had written a word of this part of the book. In John’s gospel, Martha and Mary had clearly been waiting for Jesus to arrive, for each separately says to him:
Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21, 32
Plus Martha’s response to Jesus indicated that she was waiting for a future resurrection:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:23-24
In Ezekiel, I imagined the valley of dry bones waiting for the Word of the Lord through the prophet:
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 37:5-6
As Shelley notes, the concept of waiting appears elsewhere in Scripture – waiting for the Lord in Psalm 27 and waiting for things to come in the book of Revelation as she mentions. In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah wait for a son; the prophets wait for the day of the Lord; all Israel waits for the Messiah; and the letters of the New Testament speak of waiting for Christ’s return. So waiting runs through Scripture–it’s a rich image, and a rich spiritual practice as well.

In Scripture, waiting is full of expectation, so in that way I think of it as an active time. Waiting as portrayed in the psalms includes praying, singing, lamenting, worship.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:14

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2

For Mary as the mother of Jesus, waiting included spending time with her relative, Elizabeth, and pouring over Scripture as in her song in the gospel of Luke.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name. – Luke 1:46-49

So we might well ask ourselves,

How do we wait for resurrection?
How are we to live in this time of waiting?
The Romans text for this week points to part of the answer, for Romans 8:6-11 contrasts a life based on selfishness with a life based on the Spirit. On the one hand, selfishness means hostility to God and leads to sin and death. On the other, the life of the Spirit means peace and a life pleasing to God. The text ends with a reference to the resurrection of Jesus:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. – Romans 8:11

Just as the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, God gives life to us through that same Spirit. Even while we’re waiting for resurrection, we can experience the resurrection power of God that transforms our lives in practical, daily living.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: How is the life-giving resurrection power of God transforming your life?
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Syndicated from April Yamasaki

Call to Worship for Lent 5A

This call to worship is based on Psalm 130: In the wilderness we cry out to our God. In the wilderness our souls wait. In the wilderness we hope in God’s word. In the wilderness we know God’s steadfast love. And so, in the wilderness we worship together.
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Vlog 29: Lent

The vloggers discuss the season of Lent. After Ryan introduces the question with some inspiration from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Steve responds with why he is fasting from Lent (not fasting for Lent) this year. Deborah concludes by talking about the 40 Acts practice she took part in last year, learning from and participating alongside activists. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

First Sunday in Lent: The Old Testament Passage – “Look, but don’t touch?” It’s our choice!

It is another jam-packed week, beloved readers. Having had Transfiguration Sunday, we now move into Lent. And the first major day in Lent is Ash Wednesday. Before Wednesday, however, I want to put us in a frame of mind to understand what Ash Wednesday is, and why we need it. Then when Wednesday comes, we will consider some of the passages that make up that day.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:15 – 17)

“Look, but don’t touch!” That is a caution that most parents give at least once. Because in the world of a toddler there is so much to see and experience, but also so much that small hands should leave alone. Even some adults have a hard time keeping their hands off of/out of things that they should not meddle in. And the warning from our Divine Parent is often not heeded.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman,”Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Chapter 3, verses 1 – 5)

“Look, but don’t touch!” Not everything in creation is for all people; some things are specially created for certain people. Not everyone is equally gifted and blessed. People vary widely in their abilities and skills. And while we can admire what another person has, or what they can do, not everything is for every person. Looking, admiring, and enjoying the sight of sometimes have to be enough.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Verses 6 – 7)

“Look, but don’t touch!” How can it be “sin” to take hold of something and claim it as one’s own? How can it be “sin” to incorporating items and understandings into our selves? How can that be “sin”? Well, technically it is not. But one decision leads to another, that leads to another, and before you know it we are down a path that has unfortunate consequences.

The philosopher might ask why God put something in the garden that was so dangerous? The theologian might ask was original sin inevitable? The psychologist might ask when does a person become self-aware? I am wondering why God created a sneaky snake?!

“Look, but don’t touch!” Free will – we would not be human without it. If there was not something in the garden that tested humanity, how would humanity learn? Just as the Lord God created a tree/fruit that was unhealthy and allowed a creature that personified temptation, the Lord God also sent a Messiah that we must deliberately chose to follow and emulate.

We can chose to hold onto disbelief; or we can believe in God. That is the primary task of new believers, who are the focus of this lectionary year. We can chose to keep sinning, however we are sinning; or we can chose to confess, do penance, and be forgiven. That was the focus last year. We can continue on our way, struggling with life and faith; or we can renew and recommit ourselves to the Lord God. That is the task of the lectionary year to come. All of these things are our choices; and Ash Wednesday is one of the pivotal days for these choices. May you chose well believed reader! Selah!

Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year A 2017 Tagged: Christian Journey, Christian Life, Discipline in the Church, First Sunday of Lent, Old Testament Passage, Reign of God, Revised Common Lectionary, Wisdom
Syndicated from a simple desire

How to Prepare for a Spiritually Enriching Lent

“How do you prepare for Lent?”
The question took me by surprise.

After all, I’ve always thought of Lent as a time of preparation for Easter, so hmmm, what might it mean to prepare for preparing?

For 2017, Lent begins officially with Ash Wednesday on March 1, then lasts until the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday or some say until Holy Saturday. Either way, the Lenten focus on repentance, suffering, and death gives way to the celebration of resurrection and new life on Easter Sunday, April 16.

While the dates for Lent and Easter shift from year to year according to the timing of the March equinox, the seasons of Lent and Easter come each year just as surely as Christmas comes on December 25. As I reflect on this year, I realize that I’ve been preparing for Lent in some specific ways.
Towards Springtime for My Soul
In my introduction to Christ Is for Us, I wrote:
For all of its focus on repentance, suffering, and death,
Lent points forward to springtime for the soul. (tweet this)
These are the ways I’m preparing this year:
Meditating on Scripture
A year and a half ago, I signed a contract with Abingdon Press to write a Lenten Bible study for 2017 based on the Revised Common Lectionary. For the next months, I steeped myself in the Scripture texts designated for the Sundays of Lent and Easter 2017. I wrote short reflections on the Hebrew people in the wilderness, Jesus’ temptation, the raising of Lazarus, Paul’s letter to the Romans, and other Lenten and Easter texts. I added in discussion questions and group activities. I loved living with those lectionary texts, and you can now order the book in time for Lent from your regular book store, or from one of the following for paperback, large print, and e-book formats:


Barnes & Noble

Forming Community
I was delighted to learn that one church in North Carolina has ordered 125 copies (!), and I pray that the book will deepen their relationship with God and their experience of community together. I’m also preparing to lead a Saturday morning small group experience for three weeks during Lent based on Christ Is for Us. If you’re in the Abbotsford area and interested in taking part March 11, 18, 25, 9 a.m.-10:15 a.m., please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!
Spiritual Practice
Instead of subtracting something, some choose to observe Lent by adding a simple spiritual practice. For the last few years, I’ve tried to add a walk to the mailbox as a daily expression of attentiveness and spending time with Jesus. I’m still not as consistent with that as I’d like to be even during Lent, so I’ve decided to re-commit to that again this year.
Giving Up
This year I’m also preparing for Lent by thinking about something to give up. I’ve thought about giving up listening to my car radio (which I’ve done before), potato chips (one of my favourite snacks, but I haven’t had any for weeks now), chocolate (which I tend to eat only on social occasions anyway). For now I’m still thinking about what I might give up for Lent. . . .
Writing/Reflection Prompt
How about you? Are you preparing for the coming season of preparation?How are you preparing for Lent this year?
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Syndicated from April Yamasaki

It’s Friday, but . . .

“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” This phrase has been circulating widely on social media during Good Friday both in script and as a meme. I don’t know the origin of this saying, but Tony Campolo uses it as his signature message.

It is not a bad message. The final result of the story of Holy Week is the resurrection. This is the culminating point of God’s action on our behalf. It is the main theme of our Christian faith. Our hope for eternal life hinges on this event.

In our US American culture, however, it seems to me that we are too quick to skip to the resurrection story without remembering what Jesus had to go through in order to get to Sunday. Without the agony and suffering of Thursday night and Friday, there can be no Sunday. In my own Christian tradition, we only celebrated Resurrection Sunday, and had no other special services during Holy Week. Fortunately, this has been changing.

Ours is a culture that denies suffering and death. We do everything to ameliorate any mention of death, and try any means to avoid suffering and pain. Most of us fear the suffering leading to death more than death itself. We’d prefer being wiped out quickly in a car accident or heart attack than go through the messiness of the suffering that sometimes can be drawn out over months and years before death overcomes us. So we’d rather talk about resurrection than suffering and death.

Statue of Jesus in a church in Guatemala

In contrast, Holy Week celebrations in Latin America, especially among the Catholic faithful, focus on Good Friday. Pageants, parades, reenactments of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus proliferate. A year-long process of purification is necessary for anyone wanting to play the role of Jesus during Holy Week. The actor is flogged, a real crown of thorns is smashed on his head, and real blood flows from the back and forehead. Thousands of spectators line the streets to watch the spectacle, many weeping uncontrollably at the abuse and torture of Jesus. The groups of students who have witnessed these reenactments with me over the years are profoundly moved. They will never take Good Friday lightly again. They will not rush to get through it in order to get to Sunday.

Before seeing these reenactments first hand, I, like many people in my culture, mocked this extreme devotion as unnecessary fanaticism. But I think there is a reason for it. The majority of Latin Americans live lives of suffering and oppression. They identify with a God who suffers, a God who walked the path of suffering, oppression; even torture and death. This God fully understands their situation. They cannot deny their suffering, and death is always close by.

At my home congregation this Palm Sunday, we heard a wonderful sermon titled “The Plot Thickens.” The events leading up to Resurrection Sunday were delineated carefully, not mincing on the agony, pain or suffering. But a caveat had to be given; this is not the end, come back next Sunday to hear the rest of the story. So I was pleasantly surprised at our Tenebrae service. Progressively the seven candles were extinguished as the darkness of Good Friday and the grave loomed upon us. I was waiting for the caveat, “but Sunday is coming,” but it never came. The last words we heard at the service were sung: “were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” Silently, soberly, in deep grief and meditation, we left the sanctuary. Not a word was spoken. Many were wiping their eyes.
I believe that Latin Americans and US Americans could learn from each other and our celebrations of Holy Week. They could use a little more of the hope of the Resurrection, and we could use a little more understanding of the suffering of Good Friday. I’m glad my congregation left us momentarily groveling in the dark. It wasn’t as gruesome as the reenactments in Latin America, but the light of the Resurrection will be much brighter for us after meditating on the darkness of suffering and death.
Syndicated from Klymer Klatsch

The Cross in the Roman Empire

I want to suggest a new spiritual practice—one that will be uncomfortable for many people. I want to implore the Church to reframe its understanding of the cross. While the cross (and resurrection) makes reconciliation possible for us, our understanding of the cross must begin with it as a sociopolitical tool of the Roman Empire. The cross was an imperial weapon wielded to suppress truth and inflict death upon “undesirable people.”

Today, the sociopolitical implications of the cross have been lost on us. The Church has relegated the cross into a form of cheap grace. The cross is commonly seen, and referenced, as the sacrificial gift that grants easy access to salvation, a cost-less redemption that atones for our sinful nature before the Father. This understanding of the cross fails to grapple with the reality that crucifixion was capital punishment. The cross was a death sentence reserved for Rome’s most hardened criminals and society’s most reviled citizens, while also doubling as public spectacle. To be subjected to extermination via the cross was to be publicly dehumanized, tortured, and ridiculed. These executions were intentionally conducted in front of the masses. Crucifixions (much like lynchings in the U.S.A.) served as a form of participatory spectacle, where Rome’s ruling powers promoted and publicized crucifixions. Crucifixions were also carried out publicly because they were designed to serve as public service announcements. The cross served as a vehicle for social coercion, especially among subjugated segments of society.

The Romans began the practice of crucifixion upon learning about it from the Greeks. They adapted and revised this practice of torture, making it even more barbarous. The cross ultimately became a hallmark of the Roman Empire, an insignia of the Pax Romana. For example, in response to the slave revolt in 71 B.C., the Roman Empire crucified 6,000 rebels and then decided to line the road from Rome to Capua with the crosses used to execute the “rebels.” These crosses were erected to traumatize the “least of these” within Rome’s influence. Additionally, during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Romans crucified as many as 500 “rebels” a day. rebels” a day. Crucifixions were not irregular; they were a staple of the Roman Empire. Crucifixions became the primary way the Empire chose to reinforce the oppressive status quo.

Crucifixions, therefore, were ultimately a power play by social elites aimed at activists, potential “rabble–rousers,” and revolutionaries within society. They were carried out to send a message–to serve as a stark warning to dissenting factions throughout society who even contemplated disrupting the status quo. The message was clear: all who even considered breaching the status quo were to be reminded of the fate of social activists each time they saw the ominous image of the cross. This imposing social symbol served as a concrete reminder that they too would suffer a similar fate as those previously exterminated upon Roman crosses. Consequently, the cross must be understood as a coercive mechanism of keeping marginalized populations under the thumb, rule, and reign of the Roman Empire. To understand the cross as anything other than this, a social symbol of domestic terrorism used by the prevailing powers within Roman society, is to misunderstand the purpose of the cross.

This should not only cause us to reframe our thinking about the cross, but also about Christ and why he died. Yes, Jesus died upon the cross for the sins of the world, but he also died because he was crucified by the Roman Empire, religious leaders, and the acquiescent masses. In other words, Jesus did not die, he was executed! We too often lose sight of this. Jesus was executed for bearing witness to the Gospel in countercultural ways that threatened the status and legitimacy of religious leaders and the Roman Empire. Theologically, we shy away from this truth because it has implications for our lives and the ways we are called to bear witness to the Gospel within the U.S. Empire!

Theologian Michael Gorman discusses the theological term “in Christ,” frequently used by Paul, saying life “in” Christ is simultaneously life “for” others, because both the cross and the resurrection were for others.[1] Therefore, all Christians are called to embody cruciform love for others that is empowered by the Spirit and informed by scriptural revelation of Christ’s sacrificial self-giving, which was anointed and affirmed by the Father. Living in the world, in this way, could very well lead us to be crucified too. The world shall know that we are Christians by our love—our sacrificial love! We are people called to be people who express our faith in love. But to do this, we must not fear the Empire and all of its signatures of death. To do this, we must embody Luke 12:4: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.”

The Church must re-examine its understanding of the cross in order to cultivate a proper Christian ethic. Christ’s work on the cross must not be written off so easily. It is not by faith alone–divorced from practice–that we are saved; proclamation of our faith alone does not suffice either. The cross requires a lifestyle change. Discipleship must breed transformation. The death of our Savior has to invoke his bride to embody a posture of cruciformity in the world today, and forevermore.

[1] Michael Gorman. Cruciformity: Paul’s narrative spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2001), 47.


The post The Cross in the Roman Empire appeared first on Conformed to be Transformed.
Syndicated from Conformed to be Transformed

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