Christ didn’t experience just any death, but a death reserved for those who challenged the oppressive power structures of the time. Jesus’ teachings of liberation threatened Rome. But even more so, they threatened the religious leaders of the day: spiritually abusive leaders who had turned their backs on Judaism’s message of justice and mercy and had twisted the teachings to oppress others.
Jesus stood with the oppressed. He healed on the Sabbath. He advocated for the poor. He spoke out against the abuse of women. And those in power killed him for it. They silenced his message (but it couldn’t quite stay dead, could it?).
Maybe this is the real message of the cross. That the God of all creation loved the oppressed enough to become one with them, even in death–the ultimate tool of oppressive forces.
The cross cannot just mean that we are “saved from sin,” and “going to heaven.” Our speaking about the cross cannot just sound like those cliched platitudes that Christians often tell those who are hurting. The cross that Jesus reclaimed from the Roman Empire has fallen back into the hands of oppressors, becoming a tool of white supremacy, of patriarchy, of heterosexism and transphobia, of the military and prison industrial complex, of those who wage warfare on the poor.
But I want to reclaim it, like Christ did.
If we are to find liberation in the crucifixion, then the cross must stand as a middle finger to oppressive power structures. The cross of Jesus reveals the ugly truth behind oppressive power, and then the cross mocks that power through the resurrection.
Altar of the Crucifixion at the Basilica Minore di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, San Polo district, Venice, Italy. Considered one of the greatest churches in Venice, it is a treasure trove of some Venetian art; Titian, one of Venice’s most important painters, is interred in it.
A plaque with a Crucifixion scene. Christ dominates the frame with outstretched arms, above him are angels and below him are his torturers. Densely stylized and ornamented with patterns and swirls.
Cast out of bronze, perhaps meant to be used as a book cover.
Made in the 10th century at the monastery of Clonmacnoise in Ireland during the Viking Age. Numerous attacks by the vikings may have had artistic influence on the early Irish monks. Currently held at the National Museum of Ireland.