I confess, I had forgotten the horror and brutality of the cross.
I’ve been a part of the people of God for almost 30 years. On nearly every day of my life I have seen that cross in some form: on a necklace, hanging on a wall, on the steeple of a church. It has become sterile in its emptiness- a symbol of faith, but rarely of distress. Cognitively, I can assent that it is a place of torture and execution, but after 30 years of desensitization, I don’t feel it like I ought.
I’ve seen the movies- Mel Gibson’s gory depiction of the crucifixion and probably just about every other version on the market, but my “grown up” self spiritualizes and trivializes in turn, accustomed to the drama and gore of Hollywood and leaping ahead to the glory of Easter Sunday to come.
Until last night.
During our Tenebrae service, we watched a video interpretation of the walk to Golgotha and the crucifixion, lights darkened and the mournful “Via Dolorosa” sung in accompaniment.
I almost left the room. I have never experienced a visceral reaction like that and it took me a minute to realize why- there were kids in the service. Young kids. Kids who I know have experienced awful trauma and at least one who was likely hearing the story of Jesus’ death for the first time.
I had to stop myself from scooping them all up and running out. I was momentarily furious- THIS IS NOT FOR CHILDREN.
My protective instincts are pretty geared up these days and I was ready to burn something down to shield them from the horror of witnessing this.
Maybe I was finally seeing the cross for the first time as I should.
Because as I sat there, actually needing to close my eyes, I felt the whisper of the Spirit: “No. It’s not for children. But they know it anyway. The kids that you love have known suffering and brutality and the fruit of sin and here they see that my Child knows it too.”
And then I thought about the Derek Chauvin trial this week and the three children called as witnesses to the murder of George Floyd. THIS IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. Lord, have mercy.
The scandal of Christianity is that we worship a crucified God. A God intimately acquainted with suffering. A Savior lynched on a tree by powers of the state who calls George Floyd brother. And no, it’s not ‘safe for children,’ because neither is the world.
But it was FOR children. What greater act of solidarity could there be for those who suffer than a God who suffers with them and on their behalf? A God who emptied himself of privilege and glory and took on the shame and trauma of personhood?
I don’t want to jump too quickly to resurrection Sunday without finding the hope here first: my Savior has something in common with the kids I love. Something in common with my Black friends and AAPI friends… with George Floyd and his family. My God knows suffering and walks with those who suffer.
And on this Good Friday, I’m grieving but grateful… most of all because I know that death isn’t the conclusion of any of these stories.
Death loses. Racism loses. State-sponsored violence loses. Abuse loses. Shame loses. Trauma loses.
There are much better things to come.