what it means to kill a messiah (Good? Friday)

I wrote this text for the Good Friday observance, 4/6/12 at 2:00am (midnight), at Graceland University

On Good Friday, we remember a crucifixion.  The death of Jesus is not strictly a religious event.    A deeper question is, “What does it mean to kill a messiah?”  This question opens up the meaning of Jesus’ death for Christians and non-Christians alike.


Paul Elledge (http://www.iphoneonceaday.com)
Image 217/365 – 2011

With honesty and imagination, the death of Christ reveals more than religious truths. It reveals the nature of life, our world, and power.   Jesus’ death reveals the way things are and the way things can be.

In Jesus’ time, religion did not exist as it does today.  There was nothing private, unbelievable or supernatural about crucifixion.  Crucifixion was public death.  It was factual, brutal, personal and political.   It was reserved for insurrectionists, criminals against the state, and slaves who were not submissive and disobedient.

Hope, however, did exist as it does today.   Among the Jews lived an ancient and defiant hope.  It was a hope for liberation from captivity and oppressive power; hope for peace in a world of violence;  hope for change in the rage for justice; hope to be remembered after being forgotten.    

The word “messiah” was the Hebrew word for the one anointed to bring about this hope and make it a reality – to live and embody it in life.   Good Friday remembers the day that the messiah that had come, at human hands, died.    The events around his killing tell us about our world and life together.

The consensus of the crowd to kill Jesus shows the horrors of group-think in political processes.    Today, persons without names and faces, in institutions and on country sides, suffer and die due to little more than others’ consent. 

The trial that convicted Jesus reveals the power of human blindness and frailty of human justice.  Today, individuals and families hang in the balance of courts, personal prejudices, and the promise of justice by due process.  Like Jesus, often persons are victims of prejudice, racism, and indifference.

The Temple leaders that conspired against Jesus feared him and failed him.  The empire that carried out his crucifixion claimed it was divine and its purpose, peaceful.    Pax Romana – Roman Peace – was founded on the self-righteousness, exploitation, and violence expressed in the cross.   Violence and “Might makes right” authored its peace.

Every year, we remember Jesus’ death not just to be religious, but to remember the nature of every human failure, every injustice, every tragic ending, every victim, and all unnecessary suffering.   The death of hope – living breathing like the messiah – is an ongoing reality.

We remember the failure of the Temple priests not because it was the failure of the Jews, but to remember the failure of every religious institution, every religious person, and corruption of all religious idolatry.  Good Friday presses us to dare the questions, “If a messiah were to come, would we recognize her or him today?  Are not we the body of the messiah alive today?”

We remember crucifixion not to romanticize violence, but to remember the violence behind every empire including our own.  Pilate sentenced Jesus to death in order to preserve himself.  He neglected his innocence for the sake of convenience and false peace.   It is easier to hold onto power than to uphold equity, mercy, and justice in our world today.  

On Good Friday, we remember the death of innocence, unnecessary poverty, environmental degradation, human neglect, and sanctioned violence.  We do not separate ourselves from unjust conditions.   In Jesus, there is every tortured body, every beaten wife, every hungry child, every abused person, abandoned soul, and victim of injustice. 

We remember the death of a messiah today.