Artwork by Steven Lee
I have this memory from my third grade Sunday school class. We were given a big, thick metal nail, and the story of Jesus’ crucifixion was recited, but this time with all its gory details–the blood, the nakedness, the suffocation, all of it. I guess my church had decided that third grade was the big moment to tell the children the real story of Jesus’ death.
I was shocked.
I held that nail in my young, smooth hand and imagined someone hammering it into my flesh. And I was appropriately upset.
Because I was privileged enough to live for most of my young life without witnessing physical cruelty, I held the death of Jesus up as a singular event of humanity’s great sin against God. The metaphor of my own little transgressions–my anger, my occasional meanness toward a friend–likened to the nails that pierce the flesh of my Lord and Savior was about the only meaning I was given for the story, so I tried to believe in that metaphor and to feel as much guilt as I could muster for what was, honestly, not all that evil.
Today, I have grown up in many ways–including in my faith–and my understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus is very different. Today, I understand that what is sacred and significant about Jesus’ death is not that it is a unique and singular event, but that it is, tragically, an extremely common event. In his own time, crucifixion, torture, and violent militant intimidation were common ways of terrorizing the colonized public into both complicity and rebellion.
And, now that I am an adult paying attention to my world, I see cruelty, suffering, and crucifixion everywhere. From the domestic abuse of my own loved ones to the separation of undocumented immigrants from their loved ones. From news stories of Freddie Gray’s lynching in the back of a police van to family stories of the torture and disappearance of Chinese and Taiwanese people on various sides of the conflicts of the last century. As a pastor in the community and within my own family, I have come to know more stories of cruel abuse than I could have ever imagined in that third grade Sunday School class.
The taking of a life full of God’s divine purpose was not a singular event that occured in first century Jerusalem.
Crucifixion occurs everyday. It is, truly, our great sin against God, and it is these violent systems of oppression (that benefit many of us) that are the nails that pierce the flesh of our Lord and Savior everyday.
Truly, the significance of Jesus’ death is that it illuminates and dramatizes the horror of our world’s cruelty against so many of God’s children. And the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is that it illuminates and dramatizes the magnitude of God’s victory and redemption on behalf of those most harmed by our world.
Where have you known Christ’s crucifixion in your life, in the lives of your ancestors, or in the world around?
[Editor’s Note: This devotional was originally written for the Lent 2018 Devotional: Our Daily Rice here. We decided to re-publish it in the Diverging Lent 2019 Devotional because this piece has been so transformative for community’s understanding of the crucifixion narrative.]