It took a cross. A Roman instrument of torture and public execution.
Around this the whole of human history seems to turn. But why this? Why this extremity of suffering and humiliation?
Why would Jesus have imagined this as his end?
Did he caught a glimpse of one when he was a boy and the Romans put down a rebellion,
crucifying thousands on the roadsides? And he knew this someday would be his fate too?
Possibly. But why? And how?
How would it turn out that the Romans arrested him and sentenced him to death as a political criminal, a terrorist?
How would that happen if Jesus' teaching had always been non-violence, "Turn the other cheek"?
Standing in front of the cross countless millions have felt the indescribable vibration of something new. A completely new human possibility.
So new that it has been given transcendent names like "grace" and "Holy Spirit." Surely these names are not wrong. The scripture itself uses them, and they signify an entirely new relationship with what we call God, with the divine.
But the new relationship could not be experienced apart from the frame of life in which we all exist. Apart from the body, from humanity. It took a human nerve cell to tell the centurion that here was the Son of God!
It takes a human nerve cell to vibrate before a piece of wood and the blood that drips on it.
It takes a human nerve cell to feel the earth move under our feet while the cross stands upon it.
Which perhaps begins to explain it.
Jesus embraced the cross because his own nerve cells told him here was the place where the deepest human vibrations gather to hide, in the body of another. Hatred. Anger. Fear. Power. Cruelty. Pity. Revulsion.
If he were to embrace this instrument of destruction and speak into it his indestructible word of truth, peace and forgiveness, then all would be made new. It only took the courage to decide to do it.
And that's what the gospels are, basically the story of his decision. They tell how by a supreme act of courage and wisdom he got the authorities to do what they naturally do, to collude against him and bring him to the cross.
No one had ever done this before. No one had dared. Jesus did. And for that reason God gave him a name that is above every other name.
And, reciprocally, Jesus changed the name of God. He spoke into the name of God the very things he spoke into the the cross. Truth. Peace. Forgiveness. No longer, therefore, could humanity freely make the dark vibrations within the cross the shadow face of God.
Entirely the reverse. Because the nerve cells are made new, so is God!
All is now new! All is grace! All is Holy Spirit! All is possibility, of a new nonviolent humanity!
Good Friday. Really!
Tony Bartlett, T&P Theologian-in-Residence