It is Easter, that time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ that follows his death by crucifixion. On Maundy (Holy) Thursday I attended a Living Last Supper, a dramatic portrayal of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles.
In that portrayal all of the 12 disciples speak, one by one, expressing their innermost thoughts in brief, poignant monologues. Each disciple expresses his astonishment at Jesus’ assertion that one of them will betray Him that fateful night. As each one finishes his monologue he asks, “Is it I, Is it I?”
After the monologues Jesus shared the bread and wine, and they all ate and drank together one last time. When all was said and done I found myself asking that question, “Is it I?” Do my actions in the world follow Jesus nonviolent agape, or do they follow (and therefore support) the methodology of violence implicit in the culture of empire? And if they follow the latter, does that not make me (in a very real sense) complicit in Jesus’ continuing crucifixion?
Although it is rarely discussed at any time in the church (let alone Easter), one could argue that this entire episode that we call Easter is the culmination of a great struggle. It is a political struggle between Jesus’ politics of liberation and freedom versus the empire’s politics of power and domination.
Indeed, it was that very struggle that led to Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. In his book “A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus”, George Baldwin draws the stark contrast between the political model of Jesus and the political model of the empire, or as he calls it – “the Powers”. Here is how he lays it out.
“Jesus’ Politics of Liberation and Freedom
Jesus was undeniably engaged in the political arena as he introduced the Politics of Liberation and Freedom… The Politics of Liberation and Freedom is about the pursuit of justice and not simply victory over the enemy. Beyond the need to avoid a violent insurrection that would inevitably lead to a major catastrophe for his homeland, Jesus was promoting the cause of universal human freedom… Jesus could see that to achieve freedom for his homeland he must confront the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures of his own nation as well as those imposed by the Roman Empire… Jesus understood that active political resistance to systemic injustice would result in disrupting the status quo of the Jewish establishment and ultimately lead to an encounter with Pontius Pilate. (pp. 4-5)
The Empire’s Politics of Power and Domination
Jesus was challenging political and religious authorities who operated from the Politics of Power and Domination. Over the course of history this model has changed very little… Nation States, corporations, military organizations, educational institutions, legal systems, labor unions, self-interest groups and even family structures may be identified as systems that utilize power over others as their mode of operation. The institutional church in its various forms and structures is no exception… The Powers promote the illusion that we are at peace when the systems of domination are not being challenged. Those who seek freedom from injustice inevitably disturb the status-quo and are accused of being the cause of any violence that comes from the conflict. Jesus understood the deception hidden in the promise that peace can be achieved through violence. (pp. 8-9)
There is, indeed, a stark contrast between Jesus’ politics engaged in creating the Kingdom of God that involved “the creation of new social structures based on the love of neighbor”, and the politics of the political and religious authorities that was (and continues to be) based upon systems of power and domination.
What would be the most likely outcome if Jesus came out today challenging those very systems? Here is Baldwin’s take on that question:
Tragically, in the political climate in which we now live Jesus would be labeled a terrorist for challenging the Powers. And even more tragic is that the authorities of the Church would be calling for Jesus to be crucified again. (p. 12)
And so we might ask ourselves (to paraphrase Baldwin) – Does our declaration that we are Christian represent any threat to the domination systems at all?
On Easter Sunday we triumphantly sing “Alleluia” – the Lord is risen; the Kingdom has come; our joy is complete! And yet, we walk out of church to continue crucifying Jesus through our continuing support for the empire’s politics of power and domination (and violence).
What if we walked out of our churches on Easter Sunday and, instead of our continued allegiance to empire, each of us chose to stand with Jesus in challenging the current structures of domination – no more violence, no more drones, no more nuclear weapons, no more killing, no more war!!!
That would be a new miracle that would truly honor the original miracle of resurrection. No longer would we ask the question, “Is it I?” No more betrayal. No more crucifixions. Then we could truly sing “ALLELUIA!!!”
Watch an interview with George Baldwin on Voices of Democracy, in which he discusses A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus.