Two crosses

caidosThe cross over Franco’s tomb provoked for me a serious question as we went there to pray in the Spring of last year. My question was whether if one uses the cross in a wrong way does it tap into the power of the cross and release that power, but release it negatively – a little like electricity (as a ‘good’ power) lights and heats a house, but if wired wrongly it does not serve well but is actually destructive. Some of that did not fit well with me as the power of the cross is not some sort of abstract power source. God’s rule is kenotic, is self-emptying love, not some sort of sovereign crushing power. But why the cross?

I am considering that we have two crosses which, dependent on which cross is chosen, of course will reflect back somewhere into the nature of the Gospel. There is the Constantinian cross (‘in this sign you will conquer’) that can be placed on the banners and it results in yielding evidence of its power by vanquishing all foes. As such it is aligned to an imperial power, and fits well with Christendom and all forms of getting the right person(s) in power. It was that kind of cross that manifested in the Civil War with Franco being a ‘son of Spain and a servant of God’. His conquering of the land was for the uniting of Spain and the uniting of it under God – a repeat of the ‘Reconquista’ that saw the Muslim rule in Spain end. A ‘Christian’ conquest that fitted with the wider context of the Crusades to rightly align Jerusalem to God. That cross gives us a right of power over and we are vindicated by it when we use force to establish righteousness, as that cross itself is a symbol of power.

The second cross represents a power of a different kind. It does speak of imperial power, but only when used against us. It is carried as an instrument that can be used by others – it is the same spirit as when Jesus sent out the disciples as ‘lambs among wolves’ (guess the favourite meat in the restaurants that wolves frequent?). There is no protection… unless heaven itself is involved. It takes faith to suggest that in the process of living for God that ‘no-one can take our lives from us’ but that the course we are on means we will ‘lay down our lives’ for others. It takes a whole load of faith to believe that such death is not the end, and in that death there is an undoing of imperial power.

The second cross is not the conventional sign of strength. Yet it is through that cross we are aligned to the God of heaven who give us a strength of courage that does not insist on one’s own will.

This (might) have implications for both the Gospel (good news) that we believe in and how we present it. Sovereignty will demand being appeased (Anselm: God’s honour to be restored; Reformers: an eternal debt to be paid). God will have to be bought off somehow. If we respond we will then be on the right side, all others on the wrong side. The cross as satisfying the wrath of God, that wrath being understood in personal terms. If the cross however fully satisfies the love of God, it becoming the symbol and act (when aligned to the resurrection) that fully shows us who our God is, then the work of the cross is to do a deep healing in us, to re-humanise us, to remove the scapegoating of the ‘other’, and to release us as reconcilers for the sake of others. This view of the cross will work more (note the word ‘more’) with alienation, shame and sickness than with ‘guilt’. It will see the necessity of Jesus’ true humanity being for our sake rather than for God’s sake.

The cross is to re-humanise us. The work that has to be undone is that of de-humanisation. The latter we all need to be delivered from. I don’t think the imperial cross can help at any level to re-humanise us and align us with the re-humanising God. Somewhere on the spectrum of the two crosses one seems to me to be a parody of the real one.

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Take up your cross

RevolutiionWe have just picked up this book again as I have been away in the UK… and of course cannot possibly read without Gayle! This is our current reading and we began Chapter 3 yesterday. I will probably not post on each chapter of the book, but the section was so hard hitting that I have to reflect back. The first part of that chapter was on crucifixion in the ancient world, and how Rome used it to make a point of showing ‘subject peoples who was in charge and to break the spirit of any resistance.’

Wright points out that in 88BC Alexander Jannaeus had 800 Pharisees crucified for resisting his rule; in 4BC the revolt of Judas ben Hezekiah resulted in 2000 rebels crucified; and how in the 66-70 rebellion that so many were crucified that they ran out of timber for the crosses. He then opens up that those in Galilee knew about Rome and its power to control with the horrendous death penalty of crucifixion as the ultimate and very visible symbol of power. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries would have seen, and certainly been told of crucifixions.

The call to ‘take up your cross and follow me’ cannot be sanitised. The political undertone is clear in that call. It is the call of the resistance. How far we have moved from that call to the ‘in this sign you will conquer’ of Constantine and christendom. Taking up the cross was to take up the means of brutal punishment that the Imperial powers would use to crush all dissenters. It was not taking up a weapon of warfare to defeat and crush others.

The political and revolutionary message is as strong in the words of Jesus as on the lips of any would be revolutionary leader. The difference is that of laying down one’s life not taking the lives of others to correct the status quo. The cross is the sign of victory, in this sign we do conquer but only because of a belief in the resurrection.

I had not seen, till reading this chapter, that the call to take up the cross, the call to discipleship was a political call. It now sits for me alongside the Caesar / Jesus is Lord proclamation; the parousia language of the visit of the emperor / Christ; the basileia language of kingdom / empire; pax Romana / peace by the blood of the cross; son of the divine Caesar / son of God and the many more references and allusions to the Imperial context.

The gospel is political – not in the sense of party politics. To debate capitalism / socialism is to miss it somewhat, particularly when we either inject meaning into those words that do not implicitly belong there, or we only understand capitalism through the lens of unbounded neo-liberalism (Reagan / Thatcher and beyond) or that of hegemonic state communism. The political nature of the gospel is understood as carrying the seeds for the reformation of society (the polis). It is first a call to those who are aligned to Jesus to lay down our weapons of control and to walk the walk, with the cross, with the very instrument that those who oppose us can kill us. In the year that… the belief that through losing our lives there will be an advance of the kingdom is the challenge. Maybe we have lost sight of that because the reality of the cross and what it was is not visible in our society. Only by sanitising the cross, and thereby distorting it, can we rejoice when the powerful are enthroned.

Like Israel before us any enthronement denies true good news to the nations. There is another, and only one king, and his rule is visible at the cross.

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