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  • Rev. Jen Butler

The Crucifixion | Non-conforming to Empire

Today is the commemoration of Christ’s death and crucifixion. Growing up, I was told the story of a savior, who died on the cross for our sins and I learned of Christ offering himself as a substitute for me, to spare me from God’s wrath for my sinfulness. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how God is often portrayed as angry, domineering, vengeful, and condemning, and I wonder how that has impacted the way we view Jesus and the cross.

From what I can see it has done a world of harm in propagating the very violence and power hoarding that God sought to end by showing us revolutionary love in Christ, whose crucifixion was a result of humanity’s inability to see through systems of domination to God’s vision of abundance. In scripture, John 19, we see Pilate, a man with privilege and power, speaking with Jesus, and seemingly reluctant to have Jesus killed. The Pharisees goad him on saying if Pilate released him, the empire would reject him. Rather than seeing Jesus’ministry as a reflection of God’s heart, they were threatened.

We need to understand that Jesus, what he symbolized, and the ethic he upheld, was the antithesis of the empire. Here in the U.S. empire, there’s value for riches and power, but following Jesus means putting the last first and caring for the marginalized poor. Empire criminalizes people who are mentally and physically ill, even those Veterans who risk their lives to protect it, but following Jesus offers healing from spiritual, mental, and physical blindness. Empire seeks to suppress resistance to the status quo, but Jesus led in a way of valuing all who were vulnerable and destitute and he exposed the ridiculous world order of the Roman police state.

As I watch Derek Cauvin’s trial, I see George Floyd on the cross. I can’t help but think about how the same people Jesus Christ cared for are still being criminalized and are at the mercy of the Pilates of today. What would it look like to walk alongside them, build bridges, and be good neighbors with them? To be the healing hands and feet of Jesus? I am still learning. Part of my learning is doing some intense unlearning. Ibram Kendi, the author of ‘How to be An Anti-Racist’, says, “It’s very difficult to grow up in a country, or even a world, that’s constantly raining racist ideas on your head and to never get wet.” I can see the ways I too am blinded in the surrounding downpour, but I know Jesus can be our umbrella of truth.

Being a good neighbor, for me, means taking the opposite road as Pilate and choosing to resist empire. It means contemplating how I’ve contributed to systemic violence, and considering, not just what I can do to stop deep-rooted white supremacist patterns, but the ways I could help actively dismantle a culture of state violence that is based on them. It means listening and examining closely the claims of those experiencing structural violence even if I am shocked, or in disbelief, lacking similar experience. It means I commit to doing better as an ally, given my own access to resources and privilege. It means I mourn the stolen lives, and the communities who witness bodies with their same skin, people with their language, their heart, as they’re battered in the streets and have to deal with it being shown on a reel, again and again, on every media platform. It means learning how to show care to my BIPOC neighbors and friends, whether that is supporting campaigns to Defund ICE and the Police, or just checking in on them when I know the sociopolitical world they’re navigating is exhausting.

A Prayer:

God of mercy, who sent Jesus to model what resistance to oppression and state violence looks like, create a new vision in our communities that will foster creativity, joy, and determination to build something better than the systems we’re trying to dismantle now.

In the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion, may we also remember the path that led him there, and what he encountered, so we can learn to identify and discontinue the patterns that make the world we live in unjust and inequitable.

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