Reading Jesus’ death without disconnecting it from his life and teachings, (or his resurrection) unveils to us the realities of hierarchical power that engaged in targeted and precise violence against Jesus’ body in an effort to crush the messianic reign of God that began to emerge subversively from below and within their jurisdiction, threatening to undermine their “lording over others”. The only response such hierarchical and evil power knows is to stigmatize and punish a body publicly, making an example out of someone to keep the whole populace in place. This practice of retaining supremacy over others in reality is ugly and gruesome. By disconnecting forgiveness of sins from the death-dealing practices attached to social hierarchy, and all the monstrous practices that are employed to actually keep it, leave us unchallenged by the way of Jesus which points us (through his life, death, and resurrection) towards the new humanity that renounces such social patterns and vicious cycles.
If we are going to reflect on the death of Jesus for Good Friday, then we must also consider the contradictions of whitened Christianity that has for centuries practiced and permitted the limitless violence against black bodies while clinging simultaneously to the old rugged cross. James Cone was right, we must remember the lynched black body if we are to make sense of Jesus’ body that was hung on a tree by the powers that be in his own day. Here is one such reminder. Here we find Douglas Blackmon describing the lynching of David Wyatt in vivid detail, which assists in revealing the hypocrisies of whitened Christian Civil Religion that continues to justify its own apathy and self-projections of innocence amidst anti-black terrorism against black bodies:
Dragged into the street, the mob surged around him, kicking and stomping his body until it was matted in blood and dirt. A rope was secured to his neck and tossed to two men who climbed a telegraph pole. Hoisted just a few feet off the ground, Wyatt's body whipped back and forth as members of the crowd gouged, stabbed, and sliced his torso, legs, and arms with knives. Others in the mob gathered pickets from nearby fences and roadside signs to build a crude pyre beneath his dangling corpse. Still more went for gasoline and benzene. Soon Wyatt's body was engulfed in flame. By the time the earliest churchgoers left their homes on Sunday, June 7, the grotesque form of Wyatt's carbonized remains lay amid a heap of ashes and smoldering wood on the street.
May we not domesticate the Jesus story for our own religious comfort, but in telling the story, and doing so truthfully, may we worship our crucified Christ and encounter his delivering presence, and therefore be transformed after the image of God.
- Biblical Studies Press., NET Bible: New English Translation., 1st Beta ed. ([Spokane Wash.]: Biblical Studies Press, 2001).
- Douglas A Blackmon, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 199.