All posts in Cross

  • The Sign That Saves The World

    FraAngelico

    The Sign That Saves The World
    Brian Zahnd

    Look to me and be saved,
    All you ends of the earth!
    –Isaiah 45:22

    Peri and I are on our way to speak at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem and we’re spending a few days in Florence, Italy exploring the cradle of the Renaissance. Visiting the museums and art galleries, I’ve seen hundreds of crucifixion paintings, and I’ve tried to view each one with a reverent eye. I never look at depictions of Christ crucified with a jaundiced eye. Their religious nature and ubiquitous presence may illicit a yawn from the secular cynic, but not from me — I’m an incorrigible Christian. I believe the cross is where Christ saves the world. Looking at the cross with the right eye, the reverent eye of humble faith, is the locus of salvation. The cross is the sign that saves the world.

    Ten years ago when I first began to connect Fyodor Dostoevsky’s enigmatic phrase “beauty will save the world” with the cross — it is at Golgotha that the ugliness of human sin is overcome by the beauty of divine love — the image of the cross as saving beauty that I most often referred to was Fra Angelico’s fresco. Today when we visited the San Marco Monastery I was able to see this fresco painted by the monk-artist Beato Angelico in 1441. As I lingered in contemplation of Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion, it prompted me to once again ask — what does this mean? Take a moment and ponder this question with me.
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  • Don’t Rush Past Good Friday

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    Don’t Rush Past Good Friday
    Brian Zahnd

    Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    –Lamentations 1:12

    Easter is approaching, but between us and the pastel colors of Easter lies a ghastly and bloodstained Good Friday. Don’t rush past it. In your haste to get to the garden of the empty tomb, don’t whistle past the gruesomeness of Golgotha. The resurrection is made as cheap as the fake grass in an Easter basket if we don’t linger long and hard over the catastrophe of Calvary. The cross is the epicenter of Christianity. And it is the cross that is the peculiar scandal of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said,

    “We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” –1 Corinthians 1:23

    There is nothing particularly unique about a religion that worships a resurrected god — the ancient world was awash with such religions. But Christianity is the only religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God! Easter alone does not make Christianity unique. It’s with Good Friday and Easter together that we find the uniqueness of Christianity.
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  • What Does This Mean? (Five Hundred Miles of Crucifixes)

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    What Does This Mean? (Five Hundred Miles of Crucifixes)
    Brian Zahnd

    Six months ago Peri and I walked five hundred miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. It was quite simply the most wonderful, most spiritual, most healing thing we’ve ever done. The Camino changed both of us. This morning as I prayed I thanked God in tears for the gift of the Camino. Until today I’ve not written about it, mostly because I’m still absorbing it. But Holy Week seems like the right time to share one aspect of my experience.

    We began the Camino on September 14, 2016 ( Holy Cross Day). After a long trek across the Pyrenees mountains from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France we arrived in Roncesvalles, Spain. In Roncesvalles I spent some time alone in a thirteenth century chapel gazing on a medieval crucifix. While sitting in this dimly lit sanctuary the Holy Spirit seemed to give me four instructions for my five hundred mile walk:
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  • Good Friday: A World Indicted

    Cristo_en_la_Cruz (1)

    Good Friday: A World Indicted
    Brian Zahnd

    Good Friday offers humanity a genuinely new and previously unimagined way of understanding both the character of God and the nature of human civilization. As Jürgen Moltmann writes in The Crucified God, “the cross is the test of everything.” But to understand Good Friday we need to be clear on who did the accusing, condemning, and killing of Jesus of Nazareth.

    As we read the passion narratives in the Gospels it’s obvious that it isn’t God who insists on the execution of Jesus. Mark tells us, “the chief priests accused him of many crimes.” (Mark 15:3) Jesus’ jealous rivals accused him of heresy, blasphemy, and sedition because they were possessed by the satanic spirit of rivalry and blame. It wasn’t God who charged Jesus with capital crimes. It wasn’t God who shouted, “Crucify him!” It wasn’t God who ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The work of accusation, condemnation, and torture is the work of human civilization under the sway of the satan. The spirit of God is not heard in the crowd’s bloodlust cries of “crucify him,” but in Christ’s merciful plea, “Father, forgive them.” We must not imagine the machinations of the devil as the handiwork of God!

    When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the principalities and powers of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate and their constituent institutions of religious, economic, and political power were at enmity with one another. These power brokers were bitter rivals locked in a fatal embrace. But when they took their rivalry-induced fear and hate, and projected it onto Jesus as their chosen scapegoat on Good Friday, they achieved a demonic unity. Luke precisely tells us this. “That same day [Good Friday] Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)
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  • The Crucified God

    RedChrist

    The Crucified God
    Brian Zahnd

    Here’s a big question. What is God like? I suppose this is the biggest question theology can ask. And we don’t need to be a theologian to ask this question. It’s one of the most basic questions facing anyone who attempts to worship or even just think about God. But how shall we answer the question?

    Our capacity for imagining God seems virtually limitless. Is God like Zeus whose incited anger results in hurled thunderbolts? Is God like Ganesh, the lovable elephant-headed god of prosperity from the Hindu pantheon whose idol I’ve seen in hotel lobbies across India? Is God like the comic white-bearded old man sitting behind a computer from a Far Side cartoon? Does God bear any resemblance to the primitive tribal deities who lead their people in waging war on other people? Is God totalized Will-To-Power whose omnipotence controls every event in the universe? Is God the aloof and absent clockmaker of Thomas Jefferson and the eighteenth-century deists? Is God the amorphous everything and nothing of New Age spirituality? And so on.

    To even venture an attempt to answer the question of what God is like seems to court idolatry. How can mere mortals possibly try to answer the question about God’s nature without being guilty of not only theological error, but outrageous hubris?
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  • Who Killed Jesus?

    studyforcrucifixion

    Who Killed Jesus?
    Brian Zahnd

    Two years ago during Lent I preached a series of sermons grappling with the horror of the cross. Why was Jesus murdered? Why was he tortured? Why was he crucified? And most pointedly, who killed Jesus? Throughout this Lenten series I made it clear that God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers — a term used by the Apostle Paul to describe the very powerful, the very rich, the very religious, the institutions they represent, and the spirits that operate within these institutions. Jesus was put to death by the structures of political, economic, and religious power represented by Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Joseph Caiaphas. In the Gospel narratives we see the Roman governor, the king of Judea, and the high priest acting in demonic concert to execute Jesus. God did not kill Jesus; human culture and civilization did. God did not demand the death of Jesus — we did.

    These Lenten sermons on the cross turned out to be surprisingly popular. I’ve discovered that most Christians are deeply relieved to learn that the forgiveness of our sins is not predicated upon God killing Jesus. Most people take it as good news to learn that child sacrifice is not part of God’s plan to save the world. Due to the popularity of these sermons a Bible college invited me to participate in a public debate on whether or not God killed Jesus. My debate opponent held to John Calvin’s theory that God had to expend his anger upon an innocent victim before he could find it within himself to forgive sin.
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  • Jesus Died for Us…Not for God

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    Jesus Died for Us…Not for God
    Brian Zahnd

    “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” –The Apostle Peter, Acts 3:15

    Golgotha is where the great crimes of humanity — pride, rivalry, blame, violence, domination, war, and empire — are dragged into the searing light of divine judgment. At Golgotha we see the system of human organization that we blithely call “civilization” for what it is: an axis of power enforced by violence so corrupt that it is capable of murdering God in the name of what we call truth, justice, and liberty.

    Golgotha is also the place where the love of God achieves its greatest expression. As Jesus is lynched in the name of religious truth and imperial justice he expresses the heart of God as he pleads for the pardon of his executioners. At the cross we discover that the God revealed in Christ would rather die in the name of love than kill in the name of freedom. Our savior is Jesus Christ, not William Wallace.

    The cross is both hideous and glorious, simultaneously ugly and beautiful. It’s as hideous as human sin and as glorious as divine love. It is a collision of sin and grace. But it is not a contest of equals. In the end love and beauty win. We call it Easter.
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  • What If Jesus Addressed Congress?

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    What If Jesus Addressed Congress?
    Brian Zahnd

    The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence. The cross shocks us into the devastating realization that our system of violence murdered God! The things hidden from the foundation of the world have now been revealed. The cross shames our ancient foundation of violence. The cross strips naked the principalities and powers. The cross tears down the façade of glory that we use to hide the bodies of slain victims.

    In the light of the cross, we are to realize that if what we have built on Cain’s foundation is capable of murdering the Son of God, then whole edifice needs to come down. In the light of the cross, our war anthems lose their luster. But this throws us into a crisis. What other alternatives are there? How else are we to arrange the world? The alternative is what Jesus is offering us when he told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. God’s way of arranging the world around love and forgiveness is within reach. If we only dare to reach out for it, we can have it. But we are so afraid. We’re not sure we can risk it. It’s so hard for us to let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One. It’s so hard for us to really believe in Jesus.

    The crowd never believes in Jesus. Only the little flock that accepts its vulnerability can believe in Jesus. If you tell those rushing to war that their hatred of enemies and their plan for the organized killing of enemies is evil, the crowd will hate you. War is sacred. It lies beyond critique. To critique it is blasphemy. The crowd hates blasphemy. The crowd wants to kill blasphemers. The crowd knows that the criticism of their violence is blasphemy because they know their cause is just. They believe it. And from their perspective their cause is just. They can prove it. Both sides can prove it. Always.

    Achilles knew his cause was just and that it was perfectly legitimate to drag Hector’s body from his chariot in front of the gates of Troy in a show of grotesque triumphalism. It’s the same grotesque impulse that causes modern soldiers to pose for gruesome photos with the bodies of dead enemies. It’s literally the way of the world. But it’s not the way of the new world founded by Jesus. Jesus is not the warrior king the world is accustomed to. Jesus is not the Jewish Achilles. Jesus refused to be the violent Messiah Israel longed for. Jesus did not kill Pilate and drag the governor’s body behind his chariot. Jesus did not pose triumphantly over the dead bodies of slain Roman soldiers. Instead it was Jesus who hung naked on a tree after being put to death through a state-sponsored execution. Jesus founded his kingdom in solidarity with brutalized victims. This is the gospel, but it’s hard for us to believe in a Jesus who would rather die than kill his enemies. It’s harder yet to believe in a Jesus who calls us to take up our own cross, follow him, and be willing to die rather than kill our enemies.
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  • Achilles or Immanuel?

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    Achilles or Immanuel?
    Brian Zahnd

    I just returned from seeing An Iliad at The Kansas City Repertory Theatre — a one act telling of Homer’s Iliad — and I can’t rest until I share a few thoughts…

    The eighth century BC gave the world two great poets — the Greek Homer and the Hebrew Isaiah. These two poets offer competing visions of the heroic. Homer’s epic poem The Iliad opens with these lines.

    Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles
    murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
    hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
    great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
    feasts for the dogs and birds.
    (Iliad 1–5)

    But the poet Isaiah sings a different song.

    The boots of the warrior
    And the uniforms bloodstained by war
    Will all be burned
    For unto us a Child is born
    Unto a Son is given
    And he shall be called…
    The Prince of peace
    His government and its peace
    Will never end
    (Isaiah 9:6–7)

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