Sketching Crucifixion

Sketchbook -- CrucifixionThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.

Sketching Crucifixion

Traditional Christian thought posits three historical events to culminate Yeshua’s earthly mission – the Crucifixion (Yeshua’s death), the Resurrection (his rising from the tomb to return to life), and the Ascension (Yeshua’s departing his earthly mission to rise into the heavens to spend eternity in God’s habitation). Focusing on the historicity of these events has narrowed the focus of both Christian theology and practice. While I may want to dispute that Resurrection and Ascension were factual historical events, I will deal with them in subsequent sketches; here I look at Crucifixion.

While agreeing that Yeshua died on a cross because his mission threatened the entrenched systems of Rome and the Temple, Crucifixion has a much deeper, symbolic sense for Yeshua and for us. After all, “[Yeshua] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’.” While this statement is a product of the 1st century church, rather than the actual words of Yeshua, it points beyond the historical fact of Yeshua’s death on the cross – suggesting that there is a symbolic death that each of his followers (like Yeshua himself) must endure.

Yeshua’s symbolic crucifixion

In his delightful little book Insurrection, Peter Rollins writes. “In the sacrifice for religion, Christ loses everything for God, while in the sacrifice of religion, Christ loses everything including God.” (p. 27) The first half of this statement is a description of the crucifixion as historical event – Christ sacrificing everything for God. That was his mission. The second half of the statement, however, takes us into new territory. This is the deeper, symbolic meaning of Yeshua’s crucifixion. But what does Rollins mean that “Christ loses everything including God?”

Christian preachers and theologians have interpreted Yeshua’s plaintive cry from the cross (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34) as something other than an abiding sense of forsakenness. One interpretation (that I used to favor) suggested that while Yeshua was quoting the first part of Psalm 22, he intended the entire Psalm, which ends with a message of hope. What if Yeshua’s cry meant exactly what the words actually say.

Rollins ramps up the concern, even more – “it is only when we see the Crucifixion as the moment when God loses everything that we begin to glimpse the true theological significance of the event.” (p. 21) The crucifixion was a turning point in the history of theology. Humankind had progressed from animism to polytheism to tribal (competitive) monotheism. A radical shift began with Yeshua’s mission – namely, from God ‘out there’ into God ‘in here.’ On the cross, as part of the agony of his dying, Yeshua experienced God’s absence. Having so integrated Abba into his being, he could no longer expect an omnipotent God ‘out there’ to rescue him. At that moment, the radical shift occurred. God, now stripped of omnipotence and omniscience, no longer had a separate being-ness. Without power, without separateness, without control God loses everything on the cross. We belittle the crucifixion if we ignore Yeshua’s radical doubt and sense of divine forsakenness.

Our Crucifixion

Take up your cross and follow me” is not an invitation to a Sunday morning worship service. It is an insistent call to “trust into trust” – that is, to pursue faith beyond the cul de sac of certainty and assured meaning.

To follow in the Way of Yeshua, to follow Christ, does not mean the simple intellectual affirmation that he died on a cross a couple of millennia ago. It means facing the absurdity of life without the certainty of rescue by God. It means knowing that the doubting is real and true. It means being disconnected from the security of the religious practices and theological systems we have constructed to assure ourselves. Being crucified with Christ “is a moment of radical loss in which all that grounds us dissolves away … [and] we experience the loss of all that once gave us comfort and meaning.” (Rollins, p. 39) It is at this point that radical faith is possible.

With all the props removed, then we are ready to enter into the radical trust that exhibited Yeshua’s life and death. This radical faith is not a belief system, not hope in a future life, not membership in the right religion or the right church. Instead it is a deeply rooted trust in life itself, with all its quirks, inconsistencies, and paradoxes. Only then are we ready to share in his resurrection into newness of life. Losing the protective canopy of God opens us to radical faith – a faith beyond solid belief systems, a faith beyond the niceties of personal piety; a faith in life itself, trusting in the interconnectedness of all life (and, yes, even God). When God doesn’t have to protect and save us; that divine energy is available to join with us as we seek to engage self, others, and nature in a movement toward wholeness.

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