The cross was the moment when something happened as a result of which the world became a different place, inaugurating God's future plan. The revolution began then and there; Jesus's resurrection was the first sign that it was indeed under way. That is what the present book is about.That's N. T. Wright's opening trumpet flourish in The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion. It's almost impossible to believe that any event in history has been given more ink than what transpired during that very first Holy Week. I've not waded through much of that literature, but it's clear from the rhetoric that Wright here employs that he believes much of that ink has led us somehow more or less astray.
Not astray as in "heretical," but astray as in "off course." The two crosses here at the front of our church are perfectly Protestant: the suffering of Jesus is manifest only symbolically because it's emptied of his broken body. There are no crucifixes in our church because, traditionally, we believe he is no longer crowned with thorns. He is risen. Hallelujah. The intersection between the things of this world and the next--between heaven and earth is manifest, and Jesus Christ, who died thereon, is that link, which is to say our link. That's what the cross is about. The blood is gone.
What Wright argues Revolution is that we may need to take a step back and think a bit more about the role of the crucifixion in the Holy Week story, and about the very nature of crucifixion itself:
We in the modern West, who wear jeweled crosses around our necks, stamp them on Bibles and prayer books, and carry them in cheerful processions, need regularly to be reminded that the word "cross" was a word you would most likely not utter in polite society. The thought of it would not only put you off your dinner; it could give you sleepless nights.I can't help wonder, when I read N. T. Wright, whether Protestantism--me included--hasn't too assuredly walked away from the crucifixion, the suffering Lord, the bloody Savior. We've joyfully emptied it because He did, after all. He beat it. He killed it, we might say these days. Death where is thy sting?
But what Wright wants to maintain is that we shouldn't bury the suffering Lord because in the dynamic of Holy Week, the cross is so terribly significant. Jesus Christ did not go gently into that good-night. He didn't die abed, surrounded by loving friends and all his close family. The apostles weren't singing his favorite hymns as he took sweet leave. He died on a cross.
If I'm right about Wright, then the point he's pressing in Revolution is that what happened on the cross was not some kind of pagan ritual sacrifice. It wasn't Christ's death swapped for our sin, but instead God's gift of his very self.
Beneath those lashed planks of old barn wood in front of church, a couple of railroad spikes lie on a purple cloth--shocking, horrific, a reminder of Friday's horror. But somehow the cross, even though it's old, seems left untouched by what must have happened there all day long and into the night. There's a couple of nail holes, but that's it.
And here's what I was thinking last week: if Wright is right, then shouldn't there by at least a couple of nails left there in the wood? Shouldn't that cross carry some mark, some stain of God's love? Shouldn't it look somehow less than nicely crafted?
Just a thought this Maundy Thursday.