Which nail killed Christ?

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Odd question, isn’t it? But it keeps running through my head as I ponder the meaning of the Cross this Lenten season. Of course it wasn’t any single nail, but the perfected torture of nails through both wrists and feet (or ankles) that caused death by asphyxiation–the slow agony of crucifixion. To become human, to experience betrayal, to die a death so painful (literally, “excruciating”) and humiliating–these are powerful acts by which God expresses to us a love truly more powerful than the grave.

hammer and spike

But I’m convinced there’s much more to the method of Jesus’ death than the perverse brilliance of Roman torture. I’ve come to believe that while his executioners nailed Jesus’ extremities on those beams to stretch his body apart, he was at the same time showing us how to hold those extremes together–even at the cost of his own life. Too many of us–perhaps all of us, at some point–become convinced that we know exactly how Jesus feels about one matter or another (amazing how much Jesus’ views match our own, isn’t it?). And we nail Jesus down– He’s a moralist. He’s compassionate. He’s a judge. He’s non-judgmental. He’s a Republican. He’s a Democrat. And we each have the argument to prove it, the scripture quote to nail Jesus down to our position.

I don’t think Jesus lived, died and rose again in order to hallow any single position, particularly about many of the nonessential matters over which we disagree–but rather to show that in order to be his followers, we’d have to recognize that any time we claim Jesus’ position as our own, we’re crucifying him again, nailing him down as brutally as any Golgotha Centurion. We are called to recognize that Jesus was willing to die to make sure that, in his body, we’re all held together, regardless of the positions we’re trying to nail down. More importantly, we recognize that he calls us to the same willingness to die ourselves, to surrender our need to exclude those who’ve nailed down positions other than our own.

Playing “gotcha” has become political sport in our day–tripping someone up to prove that her/his position is wrong, or at least not as right as our own. Jesus plays a different kind of “gotcha.” He says, “I gotcha, no matter where you are, or how goofed up you might be–and I got him, her and them as well. And I’ll die to prove it. I’ve got you all, and I won’t let go.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t positions to fight, even to die for, or faithful principles that put us in direct opposition to others. But one of the powerful ways we have to witness to the world is to show how people can differ, even intensely, and still maintain unity for the sake of Christ; that difference doesn’t automatically mean division. What would it mean if only a small fraction of the people we encounter could be convinced that such unity is possible?

Where is that unity most needed where you live? How is Christ being nailed down all over again? To what do you need to die in order that the Body of Christ may live its unity to the fullest?


8 Responses to Which nail killed Christ?

  1. Tim Koester says:

    Hope you don’t mind, but this way of thinking about the “nailing down” of Jesus is probably going to find it’s way into a sermon I give tomorrow at a joint worship with our local United Methodist Cong. You said what I was trying to say only with a much better saying. :)

  2. Jonathan Jensen says:

    The alternative to nailing someone down is trusting them. I don’t trust because I am afraid of so many things. Among them is that I am not adequate, not lovable, and not trustworthy myself. Then there is the economy, global warming with climate change, violence, and internet scams. A persistent word of grace is the best answer we have.

    • brianmaas says:

      I agree–the grace that is the gift of the cross; the opportunity to die to myself–even the unlovable, untrustworthy, sin-stained parts. Once we can be honest about that, as you suggest, and experience the grace the Gospel announces, we can share it with others. And we can learn again to be one in Christ,

  3. Vera Hummel says:

    Thank you for this reflection. You say “nonessential matters over which we disagree.” What is the guideline by which we know what is essential — that which is worth fighting for? Of course, I have my answer, and I’m sure others have their answers as well. Is there a place where we can all agree?

    Peace and Prayers,

  4. Lonna says:

    I love that “Gotcha”…I will use that to encourage a high school senior worried about what’s next, a single father struggling to make ends meet, a discouraged mother’s whose son is in prison….etc…etc…etc. So comforting to know that Christ won’t let go. Thanks for your words. Grateful….Lonna

  5. Casey Lieneman says:

    My favorite passage from John 17:21 comes to mind when Christ prays that we may all be “one”. As I watch the Roman Catholic Church select their next pope I pray the good steps towards reconciliation can continue between all churches.

    You’re right in saying there are important things to speak up and fight for. But when we lift up our denominations and differences over the commonalities we share as Christian brothers and sisters we miss the prayer Jesus had for the Church. I think you’d agree with that.

    I’ve been blessed to join into a rich tradition of combined midweek Lent services in Pierce. When we gather together on Wednesday nights we’re not Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, or Church of Christ. We are Christian!

  6. Michael Ostrom says:

    For a powerful example of Bishop Brian’s perspective, see “A Response to Mother Teresa’s Critics,” by Celeste Owen-Jones on today’s (3/7) Huff-Post Live.

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