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It was 1977, the Good Friday service at the College Church. My knees screamed as I followed others down the aisle toward the opened sanctuary gates where deacons held a large crucifix. It was time for the Veneration of the Cross. Supported by the pew next to me, I took another step—it seemed to take forever, the crowd sapping my energy, the chant softening my tears. Then, the crucifix was offered to me. I leaned over and kissed the Crucified’s knees, firmly. I knew He would understand.

And I was right. Decades of other Venerations of the Cross followed; with each one came the sense that Jesus also suffered the assault of my arthritic body. And such a companion He has been.

 

 

Only recently did I happen upon The Crucified God (1972) by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, a book that emerged from the kiln of his unconscious, teeming with Nazi atrocities and prisoner of war experiences. His book validated my hunch.

Moltmann proposes that suffering is not a problem to be solved but instead that suffering is an aspect of God’s very being: God is love, and love invariably involves suffering. In this view, the crucifixion of Jesus is an event that affects the entirety of the Trinity, showing that The Crucified God is more than an arresting title—it is a theological breakthrough.

In this suffering/death, I draw courage to participate in my own, whenever and however it occurs. That I’ve lived as long as I have speaks to the mystery of this strange, but multi-faceted love pulsating in the marrow of my bones. Yet, there’s more to learn.

Long has been my passion for the Crucified Cosmic Christ: the mortal wounding, the shuddering silence, the lens through which to view human atrocities, specifically lynchings of Southern Black men, women, and children: Victims of white supremacist mob rule, they were hung from trees or lampposts, beaten, whipped, burned, castrated, flayed alive, mutilated, or shot.

But James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) tripwired my passion anew. Within the fiery cauldron of his psyche, he theologized the cross with lynching. Other than Black artists with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, no theologian, White or Black, had attempted this configuration.

Cone, former Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, was curiously adept to write these five essays; he fused his segregated childhood in Arkansas with advanced degrees in theology from Northwestern University and the teachings of Dr. King and Malcolm X. What agonized Cone the most, however, was the blind eye cast by Christian churches and state and federal authorities upon lynching—like it was all right. Cone’s family felt its probability at any time.

It was only Black churches, alive with Gospel hymns and spirituals of the Crucified, together with Friday and Saturday juke joints alive with the blues, jazz, and dancing that sustained families from this psychic oppression and moral disintegration. Over time, however, passive suffering with their Lord morphed into nonviolent resistance and the Civil Rights Movement. The rest is history.

In my perception, The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a dense and rich study that warrants reflection and prayer—most appropriate for Lent. Annotations and indexing offer opportunities for further study.

 

 

Mourners cup elbows in the vestibule.

Lipsticked mouths drop snippets.

Titters break apart niceties.

Undigested words fly into vapid space.

Where is Stephanie?

The prelude, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense,” extinguishes chatter.

The bereaved slink onto raspberry cushioned pews.

A soprano trills.

“Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me!”

Where is Stephanie?

Ministers proclaim Christian, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Islamic texts on death and afterlife.

Dense prayers eviscerate faith.

Eulogies drone into the afternoon.

Quarter hours drag into hours.

Where is Stephanie?

A cardiologist effected premature death of her body.

Religious leaders bury her spirit in theological abstractions.

Where is Stephanie?

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