A People at the Base of the Cross

Christianity reduces to hospitality and reconciliation. I heard this once, I think during my seminary years, but I cannot be sure. What I am sure of is that this statement neatly encapsulates the ethos of the religion in all of its nuanced and contradictory instantiations, as neatly as something so diverse can be encapsulated. Hospitality and reconciliation. The Church is not and cannot be self-serving. If she exists with any legitimacy at all, she exists to serve the world around her. No more, no less. The Church’s mission is to bring grace to those who desperately crave it, whether they be (or become) Christians or not. Any other vision of Christianity is entwined with visions of empire, isolationism, or masochism. And certainly with a distrust that God is Alpha and Omega. Holy Week teaches us this explicitly. Jesus Christ – believed by Christians to be the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity – comes riding humbly on a donkey (or, in Matthew’s literalist reading, a donkey and a foal) into Jerusalem in order to break bread and give his life for others. Hospitality and reconciliation.

The mission proceeds forward like so many drumbeats in a military march. These can no longer be ignored, no longer be avoided. The beginning days of what Christians would much later call the Triddium mark these two virtues, though they are so much less costly and so much more dodgeable for us than they were for them. For Christians to call themselves “Easter People,” they must learn that they are first the people of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Maundy Thursday, in which the Apostle John remembers Jesus prostrate at the foot of each disciple (presumably including the betrayer, Judas), washing their feet as a servant would and proclaiming that this is the only way to be his follower. Then Good Friday, on which he proclaims from the agony of the cross (again, according to John), “It is finished.” The reconciliation of all, which John’s Jesus has repeatedly proclaimed. “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17, the much less popular sequel to Jn 3:16). “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand” (Jn 3:35). “All who are in the tombs will hear his voice” (Jn 5:28). There is even the coupling of Jesus’ statement, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,” with the later – but still canonical – addition, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Yes, sin is to be foresaken. But sinners are not; this is a lesson lost on far too many of us without the tolerance or patience to sit with people in their messiness (which, if I am any representative, churchgoers themselves have in spades).

“Jesus only loves those who love him back.” A petty argument, and a rather foolish one considering the overwhelming scriptural (as well as theosophical) consensus that God’s love extends to all of creation. But this is our typical response (no matter what confession “we” consider to be “ours”). Others may – nay, might – be within God’s grace, but we are at the center of it. Unfortunately, not even Jesus could relate to this egotistical perspective: while we sit comfortably feeling self-righteous, Jesus is crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This leads us to the message of Holy Week: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all [people] to myself” (Jn 12:32). Unless one wants to eisegete and dilute the Greek word “all” (πᾶς), the Christian must admit/embrace the fact that Jesus’ message and sacrifice are universal and non-discriminatory. Until embarrassingly recently, the Good Friday ritual in the Iberian Peninsula included both a prayer for the “perfidious Jews” and a ritual stoning of synagogues which often resulted in the killing of Jews. “You killed Christ; we’ll kill you.” But Jesus has exactly the opposite message: We (meaning all of humanity) created the conditions of possibility and even necessity for his death, so he will redeem / save / absolve us (again, all of humanity). There can be no talk of revenge or sectarian superiority during Holy Week. There can only be the kind of bittersweet humility which leads to love, true love, love for neighbor and for enemy, love that transcends confessional boundaries.

To be Easter People Christians must also be people of the Cross, people of self-sacrifice, people of unconditional love, people of a reckless self-regard at the mere sight of a suffering Other. Christianity does not exist to judge others anymore than the Johanine Jesus did. Christianity exists to love, bless, and sacrifice itself for the benefit of the scoundrel and the hypocrite. This must not be forgotten, or the faith will revert to a mere institution and will quickly lapse into the religion of Empire to which it has so easily and so often succumbed. Only when she learns how to put the Other before her – truly, humbly, and with no pretense to superiority or righteousness – will the Church learn what resurrection looks like on the other side of crucifixion.

Image used with permission from the Cathedral in Bratislava.

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One thought on “A People at the Base of the Cross

  1. “The Church’s mission is to bring grace to those who desperately crave it, whether they be (or become) Christians or not.”

    As an Unitarian Universalist who does not identify as Christian, this was an incredibly powerful statement to read. It made me wonder what your thoughts are on offering an open table for communion. I am a seminarian at a Christian school. When communion is offered during our community worship it is an open table where all are welcome. It took me awhile to fully believe that I was being invited to the table.

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