Jesus of Nazareth obituary: (not) a retraction


Face of Jesus - forensic reconstructionI am sitting in the same seat at my favourite coffee shop two weeks after writing an obituary for Jesus on Good Friday. The post arose from a desire to mark the day in some small way. I had originally written the obituary a decade ago, and when I found the document and re-read it, I wanted to update the language to reflect the ways Jesus’ story intersects with the stories of so many people today: whether refugees fleeing violence, war and political, ethnic and religious persecution; those caught in the prison-industrial complex; or those who experience the suspicion and hatred that can befall anyone who makes friends with “the wrong people.”

I could not have anticipated the response: 14,000 shares on Facebook, and 60,000 views (which is approximately 1000x the usual view rate for my posts). Obviously the post struck a nerve somewhere: either that, or it was just different from other posts on Good Friday. Or perhaps it was simply because of the image I chose.

I also could not have imagined how swiftly people wanted or provided a retraction: “Yes, Jesus died, but he rose again!” Perhaps because for so many Christians, as we only experience Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday during Holy Week, we almost by-pass the cross on the way to resurrection. But Jesus did suffer and die. People still suffer and die. Yet all too often we want to skip the suffering and go straight to the ‘happy ending.’

How many of us have met refugees and been far more interested  in hearing about how great their  new life in our country is, rather than about the suffering they fled to get here? How many of us make assumptions about people who are in custody or incarcerated that belie or minimize the structural injustices of our justice system? How many of us surround ourselves with people who look, think, believe and vote like us? How many of us do all we possibly can to avoid suffering and work as hard as we can to ensure our own ‘happy ending?’

I did not feel the need to post a retraction of the obituary on Easter Sunday because the facts of Jesus’ life and death remain the same as those I imagined Mary might have chosen to  offer in tribute to her son. The suffering and injustice of his arrest, conviction and execution remain true: his resurrection does not somehow negate them. On Good Friday this year it seemed important to me to reflect on that reality – and on the ongoing suffering of Jesus in the bodies of those who suffer those same injustices today.

If we truly want to experience the ‘happy ending’ that I believe the Story of Jesus we find in the bible leads to, then we are invited – no, we are called – to enter the suffering of others and together work against the kind of fear, hatred, prejudice and structural injustice that causes that suffering, both for Jesus two thousand years ago and our neighbours today.

May it be so.

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