All too often the Easter message is reduced to a pastel colored math equation:
Jesus + death = we go to heaven
And this is really significant. I mean, I’m not about to knock the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, but the problem is, Jesus didn’t simply die for your sins, he was murdered for them.
Jesus was killed by systems of power and violence that created hell on earth for marginalized people every day.
We call our gospel “good news.” But if the church doesn’t offer freedom in this life, how are we trusted to be responsible to share about the next.
I want Easter to be a day where we practice what we preach, a story of how God who is turning sin and death on its head, right now and forever, for individuals and for systems.
The western Easter narrative does little to speak to the systemic hells that murdered Jesus to begin with- the same ones that exploited widows, marginalized and disenfranchised the poor, and excluded the ethnic other.
Our individualist obsession with salvation implies that becoming better humans one by one is the hope of the world, but Jesus as one person didn’t just become better himself, he lived and died to take down a system of marginalization and violence.
We move so fast with a collective amnesia from Good Friday to Easter that we begin to swim deeply in spiritual anecdotes about God’s plan post the crucifixion that we forget the whole reason he was killed to begin with. (Spoiler: it wasn’t about you).
The Kingdom of God is about the redemption of all of humanity back to God and back to each other and Jesus didn’t consider this simply a spiritual matter- it was a movement to dismantle the systemic oppression in the temple and the violence of Rome. Our passion narrative has become far too simple.
We need to exercise a more complicated Gospel where, yes, the cross is about our relationship with but also about present liberation for the oppressive systems for which Jesus’s murder was executed.
See, money, power, and fame can corrupt even the most well intentioned people and institutions. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day were no different, creating systems of profit in the temple that marginalized foreigners, widows, and the poor to keep them in power and well paid all while spiritualizing their activity and others suffering.
The corruption of the temple was so significant that at all levels it functioned as an establishment to give power to the powerful and neglect its primary purpose- the fulfill the commandment to love God and to love one neighbor as themselves.
When Jesus shows up to the temple he sees what is wrong and chooses to interrupt it. He flips tables, disrupts the temple economy and decries the injustice toward “the other.”
He shuts it down.
And after making a public display against the establishment and condemning it for its oppressive practices, the leaders come at him and try to shut him down in response. When they cannot silence him, they pay a man to bring him in, condemn him under false testimony, and send him to his death.
He is framed as a criminal and abandoned by his followers who claimed their ally-ship until the cost was simply too high.
He is beaten and spit on in a purple robe and crown of thorns by soldiers and crucified with a sign reading “King of the Jews,” a mockery of the Kingdom he brought and the people who were invited to be a part of it. He wasn’t strong, violent, and militaristic like most kings, he instead risked and lost his life causing disruption on the margins. This is the kind of King that Jesus is.
They didn’t kill him because he was nice and healing people, they killed him because he challenged systems of power and empowered the marginalized to participate in a more just reality.
The problem is that most of our churches don’t have room for this Jesus on Sunday because we ignore him on Friday and every other day of the year. We want the torn veil to mean that we have access to God, but fail to recognize that in Jesus’ death he shuts down the entire temple system, rendering it useless.
Jesus dies to bring justice and to dismantle oppressive societal structures all while bringing access to God to be healed ourselves. The cross is too big and too significant to be confined to an invisible relationship with God in our hearts, it is about that but so much more. The redemption of Jesus deals with hell both now and later, and to cheapen the cross with an expensive holiday to save souls but ignore the things structures that oppress their lives, we enter into the story of the Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes, and Herod, and Pilate, we become people who look for a spectacle and in so comply with the very systems that killed Jesus and that he died for.
So, the passion narrative that we see in a very general sense is:
Jesus sees marginalized people being destroyed by a system
Looks over the larger narrative and organizes people to be a part of resistance
Disrupts and shuts down economic and religious centers and leaders
Gets targeted by people in power and tried in secret
Abandoned by people who said they were on his side but were really unwilling to pay the cost
Framed as a criminal for his activism
Killed by the system so that the establishment would stay the same