Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bloody Theology

"My entire ministry I have engaged in liturgical acrobatics. When I give someone the chalice of wine and say the words 'The blood of Christ shed for you', I don't mean what I'm literally saying. The wine is not blood. It is not Christ's blood either. And when his actual blood was dripping from the cross he was not thinking of you or me." - Glynn Cardy

In his essay, Glynn Cardy goes on to say that the "blood of Jesus" is a metaphor for life, power, and love. In the Eucharistic liturgy at the Sunshine Cathedral, we make the metaphor more explicit by quoting Jesus' words of institution of the Lord's Supper as "this is my life poured out for you..." But, on the average traditional Christian, I'm afraid the metaphor is lost. Either they disregard it entirely, consider the words hollow and meaningless, or they overly literalize the words, perpetuating a sort of ancient blood magic whereby sacrifical blood is meant to appease an angry deity and thereby insure favor for the practitioners of the ritual. In either case, a call to engage and celebrate life is lost, and more's the pity.

Womanist theologian Delores S. Williams says there was nothing of God in the blood of the cross, and I quite agree. Jesus did not die for me. He did not shuttle down from a cosmic paradise for the purpose of being brutally tortured and killed. God was in no way honored or glorified by the evil practice of crucifixion. Jesus was neither the first nor the last person to die the horrible death of crucifixion and in none of the cases was the human family edified.

The miracle of the cross isn't that Jesus died. The miracle is that in people's hearts and experience, Jesus didn't stay dead (that's the power of resurrection).

Jesus spent his life giving people their dignity back. He touched the untouchables, loved those society labeled unlovable, befriended disenfranchised people, and proved that liberty could be experienced even in the face of oppression. He helped people feel whole, and when he was brutalized and killed, people felt the need to affirm the dignity that imperial forces had tried to take from him. The people who had been given their dignity by Jesus returned his dignity to him by affirming that death didn't erase his importance. They kept him alive in ritual, story, and memory, and in time he became the very face of divinity for many. The miracle of the cross isn't that Jesus died, but that he so touched people's lives in life that they wouldn't allow his dignity to die. They labeled him their Christ, and then resurrected his body by claiming to be his body. We are the body of Christ, the living memory of Jesus.

If we worship Jesus' unfortunate and unjust execution, we deny the power of his life. It isn't the blood of Jesus that saves us, its the kind of life that he lived that we too can live.

Rather than worshiping Jesus' death, let's live in the power of his life, which is simply the power of hope, love, and justice. In this way we become Christ in the world, and when enough of us live out the Christ Principle, we will not only refuse to worship violence, we will no longer perpetuate it. During this season of "peace on Earth, goodwill toward all," isn't that the goal to which we should aspire?

No comments: