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The Crucified Community: Seven Meditations on the Cross

The urban street communities, the drinkers & drifters, the beggars & broken, the addicts & abused, are those who have and continue to be crucified . Through their own suffering and distress, there is a correspondence with the wounds and suffering of Christ, the one who endured scorn, shame, nakedness, abandonment, violence, abuse, and early death.

Those who endure the cross are often victims of adverse childhood experiences and casualties of a society where the wealthy amass wealth while the poor struggle to heat their homes. They are the ones who are crucified, left to perish young—the sacrificial underbelly of a society seduced by the forces of unrestrained capitalism.

This crucifixion of the poor, through chaos, human evil and societal structures, is taking place throughout the world, often hidden from the masses, and can be found in the ruins of Gaza, the mines of the Congo, the slums of South Africa, the homeless shelters of Glasgow, and in the urban communities of Detroit and London.

Unlike the crucifixion of Jesus, the suffering of the marginalised does not bring redemption or reconciliation. Like Jesus, they are often crucified at the behest of wickedness and evil, but unlike Jesus, their suffering is not redemptive or being about reconciliation.

In these seven reflections on the cross of Jesus, I want to examine His crucifixion through the lens of the poor and marginalised who daily carry the cross of shame and trauma.

The artwork on this page is from Steve Prince 'Urban Stations' and Adolfo Perez Esquivel 'Stations of the Cross'

Meditation One - The Forsaken One who does not Forsake

‘He was despised and rejected by men... As one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isa. 53:3)

'In order to speak of the crucified God, we need a theology of abandonment, of dereliction, of an alienation so profound that it can only be expressed in language marked by paradox and great daring and risk. The Crucifixion of the Son of God by one of the most advanced civilisations in the ancient world does not seem to be an acceptable or reasonable method of redeeming the world. There is something so outrageous and obscene about it that the agony in Gethsemane becomes the only comprehensible part of the whole saga.'

-Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified

The death of Jesus, like the abuse sustained in childhood by many vulnerable adults, is obscene.

His crucifixion, like the tens of thousands of others who were crucified by Rome, was an unspeakable evil - polite Roman society would not talk about it - that speaks through the scars on the bodies and souls of those who endured it, but was also a death that perceived as obscene and disgusting by others. The wondrous cross, that old rugged cross, was not at first a symbol of love, an adornment for buildings, or to hang around a neck; no, the cross was a grotesque reality, a torturous shameful death whereby a naked body would, in public view, suffer, defecate, and slowly die, in public but alone.

The death of Jesus, particularly his method of execution, was a scandal (Gal 5:11), a stumbling

block for the Jewish community, for they could not conceive how a messiah could take his place

with the cursed (Gal 3:13). The manner of Jesus’ death and not just the actuality of his death is important. In an early church hymn picked up by Paul in his letter to the Philippians, he says, 'He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.' and Jesus himself makes the cross the model of discipleship when he says, 'Take up your cross and follow me.' In his death, Jesus the king, endures what the Roman empire only dished out to what they perceived as the dregs of society, the slaves, and the terrorists. And here lies a holy scandalous mystery, the eternal Son of God took the way of the cross, the way of the underdog, the dregs, and the marginalised.

'He was despised and rejected by men... As one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.' - Isa. 53:

In Jesus, those who have experienced their own crucifixion through abuse, brutality, and domination can find solidarity.

To the rich and wealthy, the academic elite, and the nobility, the cross is an embarrassment, but to the poor and oppressed, the cross is God saying, 'I am with you; I have experienced what you have experienced' — an intimate solidarity with those whose suffering degrades dehumanises.

God entered into a place of dereliction and godlessness to identify with those who are despised, rejected, and cries out , 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'

In this cry of Jesus, the lonely victims of the machinations of evil find the answer to the question

of abandonment, for God has not abandoned those who experience acute suffering. No, in the God-Man Jesus, we see a God revealed who is not aloof and distant from suffering but has participated as a victim. He is not an absent landlord but rather enters in, joining us in our suffering and pain.

Francis' life has been filled with sorrow. Abused and mistreated from an early age, let down by those who should have shown him love. He entered adulthood wounded, with a body and mind that bear the scars of shame, abandonment, and exile. Every night, Francis prays by his bedside, clasping a cross that portrays Jesus as a shepherd, a cross he was given on the day of his baptism. When the nightmares come, he clings to the cross until his eyes close in sleep. As pastors, we can never fully know the extent of his suffering, but Jesus does not abandon Francis. Just as the shepherd cross illustrates, He is the Good Shepherd who walks with Francis through the darkest valley, for He too has experienced the depths of suffering.

In Jesus, death was followed by resurrection. Francis understands that, though he may die young due to trauma and hurt, his crucified friend Jesus knows and understands his suffering.

He, Jesus the crucified shepherd, will one day transform and heal, bringing reconciliation to all things, for He is the crucified, now risen, healer of all hurts, the forsaken one who does not forsake.

Meditation Two- The Servant who Heals

1 Peter 2:24–25 (ESV):

'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.'

At times, the wounds of crucifixion are physical, with flesh torn apart from multiple 'digs' or flesh bruised, swollen, purple, a result of a fist in the face from an angry punter. Other times, the wounds are emotional and spiritual, infecting the soul with a trauma that lasts a lifetime. Whether physical or emotional, the pain is real.

The physical and emotional are related. Heroin as 'hopium' provides momentary escape from reality, easing the pain. The needle or the crack pipe serves as a warm hug that stabs you in the back.

These hungry ghosts, exiled from mainstream society, find themselves exiled, searching for a home, for comfort and safety. They hunger for home, 'hiraeth.' Those who carry the cross long and yearn for a home they never had, a sense of worth, dignity, and identity which is too often beyond their grasp. Guilt and shame have taken hold in hurting hearts, and these hurting hearts and sad souls become homeless, craving affection, safety, and peace.

In a different time and place, another was crucified, ending his life alone and gasping for breath. Exiled, alone, and seemingly forsaken by his Father. To the untrained eye and passerby, this death may have seemed ordinary, just another tragic death at the hands of evil. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this torturous end, the death of Jesus, is a place of healing and a source of hope.

Peter the fisherman, at first, didn't acknowledge the deeper significance of Jesus' death; he fled the scene and denied Jesus. Later in life, though, Peter was able to see in his own life and articulate in his teaching that the death of Jesus is salvific, a source of forgiveness, a source of healing for wounded souls, and a place of reconciliation.

This change in Peter is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a fresh reading of the scriptures of Israel. Standing behind our passage of 1 Peter 2:24-25 is the servant song of Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 40-55 is composed of a series of prophetic utterances and poems which speak to the homesick exiles of Babylon. God's people are in Babylon, away from home, 'Hireath,' an exile that has been brought about by both sin and idolatry.

The prophet stirs hopes and imaginations by saying that the time has come when YHWH will deliver his people from sin and exile and lead them on a new exodus victory march back to the promised land. Within this larger context lies what have become known as the servant songs, a collection of poems which speak of a servant whose life and death have salvific significance - Isaiah 53 is the longer of these servant songs.

In these poems, we see the salvific suffering of the servant.

  • The servant is cursed so that others may be blessed.

  • The servant had violence done to him so that others may have peace.

  • The servant is killed like a sacrificial lamb so that those who have gone astray and are exiled can return home.

  • The servant suffers so that the wider community can now be healed.

Peter picks up these themes to show that the death of Jesus is the fulfilment of these servant songs. Peter offers what we may say are three interconnected movements which become the symphony of salvation.

1 Peter 2:24–25 (ESV):

(1) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

(2) By his wounds, you have been healed.

(3) For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In the first move, Peter says that Jesus' death, in some holy mysterious way, is an execution with saving significance, an act by which Jesus carries sin so that the covenant community can die to sin and live for righteousness.

Sin, a power and a presence which destroys lives and wounds souls, both as an individual transgression of a divine decree and as a force that descends, overwhelms, and creates desires and impulses in humans that cause us to harm both ourselves and others. Those in addiction identify with this - we do the things we don't want to do and don't do the things we should do.

Humanity, at an individual and corporate level, has opened the door to sin, and it has overwhelmed us. By way of example, humanity at large has opened the door to unrestrained capitalism and consumerism; we are hooked, addicted to these myths, and now the beast overwhelms us and plunges us further into ecological and biodiversity collapse. At an individual level, individuals are seduced and overwhelmed by the sin of hoarded wealth, and then, in their own decision-making, spending habits, and financial practices, they take active steps to hoard resources and build bigger barns.

Moreover, the plight of the addict is exacerbated by the wealth disparity in capitalist societies. As the rich get richer, those who cannot engage in the race sometimes bail out altogether, becoming further marginalised from work and community. This in turn underpins the forces of chaos.

The crucified poor identify with Jesus who bore sin and was sinned against. The innocent sufferer, who didn't deserve what was done to him. But they also recognise that they are not blameless or without sin and are invited, through the fog of guilt and shame, to see that Jesus bears a weight in which the sins of both the world and individuals are crucified with him, nailed to the cross. Jesus carries sin, and in this carrying, the dealing with the problem, presence, and power of sin, a new future is possible.

Peter tells us that in the death of Jesus, a new power is unleashed in which human beings who have been seduced and empowered by sin and have simultaneously actively chosen to walk its path are now given the opportunity to die to sin and instead live for righteousness. The sinner can now be empowered to live a different life. The urban marginalised may also take hope that those who hoard wealth, and thereby oppress the poorest, are not necessarily, despite the counter evidence, permanently locked into this sin. No, Jesus in his death has borne sin, nailed it to the cross, and has unleashed a power that the hoarder of wealth, or say the arms dealer, or slave owner, can die to this sin and embark on a life of righteousness.

The second movement, providing additional theological tone and texture to our salvific symphony, is that it is through the wounds inflicted on Jesus that the wounds of humanity may be healed. In some holy sense, as the body of the God-Man was smashed by sin, the power of divine love was unleashed throughout the cosmos, a healing balm throughout time for wounded souls. In the cross followed by resurrection, the homesick and wounded find forgiveness, a home for their homesick hearts. All souls, Augustine said, are restless until they find their rest in Him, and in the death of Jesus, the great enemy of intimacy is defeated so that we may embrace and be embraced by the Father's love. Jesus, in His crucifixion, is caught in the crossfire of love & violence, grace & wrath, beauty. & shame. He dies an ugly, hopeless death, but from the ashes of death comes the beauty of resurrection that means that the darkest day is not the final day.

In the third movement, bringing together the carrying of sin and the healing which ensures, Peter reminds his flock that the exile is over and that his community has now returned to the shepherd and the one who watches over their souls. For Peter’s first readers, still living in the world, amidst the power and beasts of domination, a new reality now exists. A community, in the world, but at home in the Father.

Steven bore deep wounds, inflicted by others, by the oppressive structures of the world, and by his own sins. He felt adrift, longing for a true home, a place of love and security. Though he had a roof over his head at times—whether in a children's home, an overnight hostel, a prison cell, or an empty flat—he yearned for a more profound sense of belonging, for a home.

Steven carried a tattoo of a gothic cross on one arm with the words 'no regrets' inked on the other. Paradoxically, he carried many regrets. However, one day, within the walls of a prison chapel, a song about the wondrous cross and a preacher's gospel message stirred something within him. When he returned to his cell, tears flowed. At first, they were tears of sorrow, but as he pondered the song and the sermon, the power of the cross became evident, and tears of joy soon replaced his sorrow.

Sin had held a firm grip on him, but his saviour proved mightier. The burden of sin was lifted, and guilt and shame began to fade away, as his saviour bore the weight of his transgressions. A new, transformative power emerged, causing Steve to shed his old life and walk the path to renewal. Jesus had no regrets.

Over the ensuing weeks and months, Steve underwent a noticeable transformation. His smiles became more frequent, and the pain he once felt lessened. He embarked on a journey of healing. While he didn't fully comprehend the profound mysteries of the cross—and who can claim to do so?—he began to perceive the cross, once a symbol of shame, now held a peculiar attraction. It had become a wondrous cross, drawing him anew into the embrace of the Father's love.

Meditation Three: Bought with a Price

'Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body..... You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.'

- The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians

'For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'

-Jesus of Nazareth

1 Peter 1:17–19 (ESV)

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Many human beings, although all are made in God's image, consider themselves as worthless, devoid of value. They often linger in the shadows of our cities, heads hanging low, and are unsurprised when others treat them without dignity or honour. In contrast, when receiving care and compassion from others, they may sometimes ask, 'Why are you doing this? I don't deserve this.

We must also consider the sobering reality that, under the watchful eye of unrestrained capitalism, large numbers of humanity are objectified and commodified, gaining their value only in the sense in which they can advance the economic interests of the elite. In this way of thinking, many human beings offer nothing of inherent value; they are seen as collateral damage when they stand against the interests of empire, colonialism, or profit. In the hierarchy of oppression, factors such as geographical location, gender, skin color, culture, or class present a sliding scale of worth. This is borne out by the climate emergency, where the brunt of suffering is borne by people of color. Yet, so far, these consequences of actions don’t seem to change the intentions of capitalism and consumerist interests in the global north.

With this contemporary context, we return to our discussion of the crucifixion of Jesus, and more specifically to Jesus’ self-understanding regarding his death. In the book of Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, Jesus three times predicts his own death and suffering (Mark 8:31-33; Mark 9:30-32; and Mark 10:32-34). He knows, with prophetic insight, that he will be rejected, delivered over, condemned to death, mocked, spat upon, flogged, and killed. Jesus also knows that this is not the end of the story; he will be vindicated, and he will rise again. Just after the third of these passion predictions, Jesus states, in response to a dispute from James and John, that 'he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' (Mark 10:45)

Jesus does not mean to say that he has come from Galilee, but rather from the heavenly realm. This is the beginning of the great humbling, the incarnation, which would reach its climax in the cross. The eternal Son of God emptied himself, being born in the likeness of men; he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8). The telos, the mission, of Jesus the God-Man was to provide a ransom (elytron) for many. A ransom is that which is paid to bring release to others, a sum paid to secure the freedom of prisoners or slaves.

In other words, Jesus' death, in some mysterious sense, is the 'price' that is paid to secure release for that which one values and ascribes worth to. A ransom paid brings redemption, and the early Christians, drawing on the scriptures of old, would be reminded that YHWH is the redeemer who delivered his people in the exodus from the evil of Empire (Deuteronomy 7:8; Isaiah 35:10), and that YHWH promised he would bring redemption to those in Zion trapped in sin and transgression (Isaiah 59:20). YHWH is both the redeemer, and in the giving of himself the ransom.

Let's pause here and marvel at the mystery. Jesus, in some mysterious sense, died for sins to bring forgiveness and break the power of sin. A price was paid to bring freedom, and this price indicates the worth and value of that which is enslaved. The early church confessed, professed, and rejoiced in the fact that they were bought with a price, and that price was no other than the death of the Eternal Son of God embodied in the God-Man, Jesus.

In the death of Jesus, we see the value and worth of humanity. Yes, we are sinners and worthy of judgment, but we are also a treasured possession. Just as the kingdom is described as a pearl of great price, for which a merchant sells all he has to gain it, so humanity, in its beauty and brokenness, is that which is loved to such an extent that the Son turns his face towards Jerusalem, suffers, and dies.

The cross speaks. It speaks to those who see themselves as without worth and says, 'You are so precious and loved that the eternal Son would willingly die.' It whispers to the broken, 'You are valuable, and I cannot abide with you living in the slavery of sin. I will redeem you.' It sings over the downtrodden, 'Lift up your heads; freedom is here. I see you, I know you, I love you.'

The cross speaks to those who oppress the poor and devalue humans, to those who commodify and crucify the world's most vulnerable. The cross speaks: 'Repent, change your ways. The vulnerable are worth more than profits, and they are more valuable than growth. I have bought them with a heavenly price and at great cost, and you should treat them as such.'

Charlotte was 50. Passed from pillar to post in the care system, and now as an adult moving from one abusive relationship to another. In moments of honesty she says to her pastoral workers, "It's what I deserve, I wish I was dead, nobody cares."

During the weekly healing workshops she attends, they spend time thinking about the cross of Jesus. And then it dawned on her, "My life has value. I was bought with a price. Jesus loves me and shows this love by dying for me so I can be free from the powers and consequences of sin and shame. When Charlotte receives the bread at the weekly Eucharist, she smiles and says, 'Thank you, Jesus.' She intends to live out her days, before she meets Jesus face to face, one step at a time, as one who is loved, cherished, and valued.

Meditation Four: The Death of the Monster God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

-Colossians 1:15–20, ESV

God is Love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

- 1 John 4:8b–10, ESV

“Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, the Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.”

The crucified one, Jesus, stands in solidarity with the poor who are crucified at the hands of the powerful. Many perceive power as synonymous with domination, exploitation, subjugation, and violation. Power, bolstered by muscle, might, and militarism, is imposed on others against their will, enabling those in control to gain an advantage. This recurring pattern persists throughout the world and throughout history, manifesting in the brutality of the gulags, the oppression and suffering of indigenous populations, forced labor in the mines, and even domestic violence within our homes.

In the Christian confession, we make much of the power of God, and in turn, we have, especially since Augustine and on through Calvinism, constructed theological systems which lean towards control and violence.

These constructions, or, we may say, paintings and portrayals of God, may keep us in a place of fear and at a distance from intimacy. For those already traumatized by the crucifixion brought about by extreme poverty and chaos, the 'portraits' of God as absolute power, control, and violence can inflict further damage upon already wounded souls. Instead of healing, wounds remain raw and open. Theological systems can be triggering, evoking memories of being dominated and oppressed. Yet, theological systems can also serve as drivers of oppression. We become what we worship, and if we, or our churches, worship a god of absolute control and domination, we may reflect that in our lives. We resemble what we revere, we become what we behold. A portrait of a violent God, if not corrected, can promote violence.

Let's take, for instance, the portrait of God as the God of Absolute Control, or we may say the 'Puppet Master of Pain,' the God who exercises meticulous control. This god has ordained or specificallyallowed all events to take place according to His perfect plan. Everything that happens in the world happens as this is exactly how God meant it to be. Rape, abuse, violence, heroin overdose, modern-day slavery, ecological and biodiversity collapse, extreme poverty, extreme wealth, take place because God is in meticulous control. God, in this scenario, is all-powerful, and power means control, so God is all-controlling. This portrait of God is what lurks in the heart of the lady, a victim of gang rape, who asked her pastor, 'Why did God do this to me?

At the core of the Christian gospel lies the crucifixion, a violent event in which the God-Man, Jesus, meets His end. However, this violence does not originate from Jesus towards others; instead, He becomes the victim of others' violence. In His death, we witness the dissolution of portrayals and theological concepts of God that equate absolute power with absolute control.

In the ultimate revelation of God found in Jesus, we see divine power in action. Yet, it is not characterized by control, domination, or violence, but rather by self giving sacrificial love. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, a holy trinity of love, give of themselves so that their cherished objects of affection, broken and beautiful sinners, can, among other things, break free from the cycles of violence. The crucified God invites both victim and oppresser into the embrace of a non-violent, non-coercive love that leads to liberation.

The power of the cross, the power of the gospel, is not found in the message of a God who meticulously controls everything. Instead, it resides in the self-giving suffering of the Savior, demonstrating once and for all that the rule and reign of the king and the kingdom are not achieved through the sword and vengeance, but rather through forgiveness, non-violence, and service. The resurrection of Jesus serves as a vindication of non-violence, a celebration of self-giving sacrificial love.

"Jesus's entire life was a demonstration of the true nature of God. As Jesus heals the sick, forgives the sinner, receives the outcast, restores the fallen, and supremely as He dies on a cross forgiving His killers, He reveals what God is like. To see Jesus is to see the Father. At last, we know that God is not like the thunderbolt-hurling Zeus or any of the other angry gods in the pantheon of terrorized religious imagination. God is like Jesus, nailed to a tree, offering forgiveness. God is not a monster. God is like Jesus!" — Brian Zahnd

Another way to perceive this is as a clash of kingdoms: Rome sought to establish peace through violence and domination, known as the Pax Romana, in its pursuit of empire. In contrast, Jesus aimed to establish peace and the kingdom of God through non-violent, self-giving sacrificial love.

Initially, it may seem that violence and empire have the upper hand, that they prevail.Jesus dies. Non-violence and love appear to have no place in the politics of power. However, three days later, in defiance of the empire, the seal of the grave was broken and Jesus was raised to life. This act revealed that Jesus and His kingdom possessed an inherent power greater than emperors, empire, or the cross, their chosen instrument of domination. In the battle of powers, love emerges victorious.

We become what we worship, and if we worship a God of non-violent, self-giving sacrificial love, then we should expect to see this embodiment and enactment in our lives

Kev was a fighter. Since leaving the armed forces, he had repeatedly witnessed the triumph of violence. However, six months ago at the Three Legs, someone bigger and tougher gave him a beating. With ample time on a hospital ward for reflection, Kev started contemplating God. He held God responsible for his divorce, the loss of his child, and the traumatic experiences he had in Iraq and Afghanistan. One Sunday, after requesting to meet with the chaplain, he sat down to read the Gospels. The hospital chaplain had been clear when she said, 'God is as beautiful and kind as even Jesus.'

As he delved into the Gospels, he found healing, compassion, the concept of the kingdom, and the cross, each aspect revealing what God is truly like. The cross, he realized, represented a victory, but not through the display of physical strength or the use of a sword. Instead, it was a victory achieved by arms outsteched on the cross. Kev had a thought: 'The cross is where we witness power displayed as love and love displayed as power—a power that heals and saves the world through humility, sacrifice, and self giving sacrificial love

Kev may well discover that as he contemplates the beauty of the cross as a true revelation of God's nature, he becomes less violent less domineering, less controlling and more loving.

Meditation Five: Triumph over Evil

"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.' (1 John 3:8, ESV)

"At the cross, a brutal method of execution that epitomised death, disempowerment, and degradation, Jesus achieved victory over cosmic evil, delivering a decisive blow to malevolent despots.

— Michael F. Bird,

The crucified understand, in their bodies, minds, and hearts, that the world is a perilous place, a war zone. It is a battleground where chaos and evil, through both individual and action, and through the structures and systems of domination, seem intent on killing, stealing, and destroying. Many vulnerable adults feel hunted down and rarely have moments where they are not actively being hurt by poverty, addiction, violence, or chaos. This war has many casualties—the abused, the emotionally scarred, the maimed, the tormented, and the traumatized.

The New Testament shares this perspective, portraying God's once beautiful and blessed world as now under the sway of an evil rebellion. While this may challenge modern sensibilities that favour science over narratives resembling those of Narnia or 'The Lord of the Rings, the New Testament is clear in asserting that this world is under the influence of the evil one, with an array of dark and sinister forces at work. In John's Gospel, Satan is described as the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), and Paul identifies Satan as the 'prince of the power of the air' (Ephesians 2:2) and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan is a tyrant king, a usurper of the reign and rule of God.

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

"We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19, ESV)

The world has become a battleground—an enemy-occupied territory where Jesus intervenes to heal, rescue, forgive, and restore those who have suffered harm and wounds in the ongoing conflict.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke underscore that Jesus' kingdom confronts this realm of evil, repeatedly bringing freedom to those oppressed and possessed by malevolent forces (e.g., Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20, 7:24-30, 9:14-29, 16:9). C.S. Lewis grasped the implications when he said, 'This world is enemy-occupied territory; Christianity narrates how the rightful king has arrived, incognito, and beckons us to partake in a grand campaign of sabotage.'

The crucified poor may find solace in this perspective. Firstly, it aligns with their own experiences. Secondly, this worldview acknowledges that the current state of affairs is not how God intends it to be; the prevailing circumstances do not reflect God's meticulous control, and evil and suffering stand as affront to God's original design. Thirdly, this outlook enables those with a vision of the kingdom to recognize that the prevailing structures and systems of domination, which perpetuate 'business as usual,' stand in opposition to the work of Jesus and the Church.

The Apostle Paul draws together the cross of Jesus into this warfare worldview.

'And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.' (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

Paul encourages the Church to recognize that these Gentile believers, despite living in a world of sin and oppression, are now alive and forgiven. Although Paul doesn't explicitly state it in this passage, we can infer that this reconciliation rescues those who were under the influence of the evil one. For Paul, this rescue is accomplished through Jesus' death. Notably, Paul, while highlighting the individual and collective gift of salvation, also portrays Jesus' death as the disarmament and triumph over the rulers and authorities - ‘This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.'

What does Paul mean by this?

The key lies in understanding that when Rome vanquished its foes through violence and brutality, they would parade the defeated enemies, in a Roman Triumph, through the streets of Rome, signifying their shame, defeat, and the victory and prowess of the Empire.

Furthermore, as a Jew, Paul would have been familiar with Jewish traditions, which often depicted an end-time battle between God's covenant people and powers of domination. This battle was conceived as a conflict between physical armies—the Jews and Rome—and had an array of spiritual forces aligned with each side - the holy angels and the demonic host.

Given this, the imperial triumph and the final eschatological battle, Paul offers a powerful theological twist as he maintains that the defeat of Satan and the oppressive forces is not a future event but a past victory, already achieved on the cross. While Roman politics proclaimed the cross as the humiliation of enemies and the triumph of the state, Paul declares that Jesus' death signifies the failure of the state and the triumph of the Messiah and his kingdom.

‘This strange but wondrous act of God turns typical Roman brutality on its head. Whereas Roman military commanders exposed and paraded conquered enemies through Rome on their way (sometimes) to a public crucifixion, here God exposes the hideousness of systemic evil by means of a crucifixion.’

— Scot McKnight

Jesus' death symbolises the victory of God and the public humiliation of demonic, political, and religious evil. Evil, embodied and enacted on the cross, overplayed its hand, crossed a line, and, in killing the eternal Son of God, laid bare its power, intent, and nature. In the resurrection of Jesus, these powers are revealed to be temporary, hideous, and fundamentally opposed to the coming Kingdom.

Francois had been a cobalt miner in Congo since the age of 7. Working long hours for meager wages, he now owned his own shack and was saving up for an electricity generator. A nun at the local convent taught him to read when he was placed in the convent hospital. His body was strong, but the story told by his damaged lungs, due to inhaling mining dust, was a different one.

Francois read the gospels to practise his English and could often be heard shouting 'Amen' when he pondered the words of Mary's song about 'Bringing down the mighty from their thrones, and lifting up the Weak.' In God's kingdom, he thought, children wouldn't toil in the mines, fair wages would be the norm, and the elite fat cats could be brought down a peg or two. In contrast to his 'amens,' in moments of lament, Francois realized that this is the way it has always been, is now, and always will be. The world is a war zone, and he is just another poor soul crushed beneath the wheels of injustice.

As Francois continued to read the Gospels, he identified with the suffering of Jesus but also began to see the holy mystery of the cross as the moment when the forces of domination and oppression are given their notice. A new day has dawned, and the power and politics of evil will not have the last word. Francois knows his suffering will continue, but he also knows that one has suffered who has achieved a victory. It is Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Meditation Six: Forgiveness

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2, ESV)

Each year members of the street community, head to prison, some reluctantly and others choosing to commit a crime so that they can have a roof over their head through winter. With a criminal record many are searching and longing for forgiveness. They long for the strength to forgive those who have wronged them, the grace to be forgiven by their victims and the mercy to forgive themselves. Many are also looking for forgiveness from God, this is especially true, as prison chaplains can testify, if the crime was of a violent or a sexual nature.

The wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23), and this death often begins within one's soul as the guilt and shame of criminality consume the dwindling reserves of identity and self-respect. However, the wonderful and beautiful truth of the gospel is that through the crucifixtion, humanity has entered a new era where forgiveness and intimacy with the Father are both offered and actualised. The cross of Jesus, with all its dehumanizing violence and humiliation, where the God-Man is sinned against, is simultaneously the place of extravagant mercy and unlimited love. Here, even the vilest offender finds pardon, peace, and forgiveness.

The roman soldiers, trained killers who killed at the behest of empire, tortured the innocent one, spat upon the great king, flogged the peacemaker, and butchered the good shepherd.

Before he breathed his last, the God-Man Jesus, the one who could have called down a legion of angels to destroy his executioners, spoke to those who had tortured him, and said ‘Father, forgive them they know not what they do.’

He who taught enemy love and forgiveness, in his final moments preached his final sermon.

In the midst of humiliation, love spoke. He still speaks, offering and actualises forgivness for the whole world.

The wages of sin is death, and the story of Israel found in the scriptures of old speaks of the consequences of transgression as curse, death, exile, and judgment. The wrath of God, a biblical word which doesn’t resonate well in contemporary contexts, may be understood as the the natural outworking of sin , the cause and effect.

Sin and judgment, a relationship of cause and consequence, is found in our own lives whereby chaos and rebellion damage and dehumanise us or lead us into a spiral of chaos and captivity. Our sin has no part in God’s future kingdom and if it were to remain we would be excluded (1 Cor 6:10, Rev 22:14-15)

Yet, in Jesus, we never receive the wages of sin, that is death , although it's what we deserve; instead, we receive the gift of reconciliation and eternal life.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation (hilsamo) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2, ESV)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (hilsamo) for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

In these two verses John uses the greek word ‘hilsamo’ and it’s the only place they appears in the New Testament. In the greek translation of the Old Testament, the septuagint, it is appears 6 times, and relates to the removal of guilt usually through sacrifice. Scholarship debates as to whether it should best be translated as atoning sacrifice, place of mercy, expiation (removal of guilt) or propitiation (removal of Gods anger).

Pagan understandings of God, and variations of it within Christianity, sometimes portray God as full of wrath towards sinners, with blood sacrifice of an animal or a human allowing the appeasement of God's wrath.

This pagan concept has no place within a trinitarian understanding of God, for the Father is the agent of reconciliation who 'sent his Son.'

The narrative trajectory towards the cross is not found to be found in in either wrath or anger, but rather within the saving embrace of a loving Father who sends his Son on a reconciling mission to deal with sin so that there can be reconciliation and restoration.. The exact theological mechanics of this, I can't grasp; it is a holy mystery. However, we can confess and celebrate that in the death of Jesus, sins are wiped away (expiation), and Jesus, as Israel's representative and Messiah, takes upon himself the curse, the exile, and the wrath of God. The barriers of sin and shame, that which keep us from intimacy, have been removed.

“Jesus, the innocent one, the one person who has done nothing wrong, the one innocent of the crimes of which Israel as a whole was guilty, has become identified with rebel Israel who represents God’s whole rebel world; with us who are rebels, unclean, unfaithful, unloving, unholy – so that he may take that sin as it were into himself and deal with it, and give us instead his holiness as a robe, his purity as a gift and a power.”- N.T Wright

Ace knows she shouldn't have done it, and as soon as it happened, she knew there would be consequences. Barbara, her best friend and partner in crime, wouldn't walk again, but with disability access for prison visits, Ace was able to hear the words from Barbara: 'I forgive you.'

Barbara had recently become a Christian, and these words were healing for Ace, but Ace was still looking to forgive herself. Over a number of prison visits leading up to Easter, Barbara shared the story of Jesus and explained why the church calls the day he died Good Friday. At that moment, in the visitors' wing, the spiritual lights came on, and Ace, with tears in her eyes, saw afresh that the death of Jesus was the gateway to forgiveness and reconciliation. The death of Jesus showed the gravity of sin, and Ace perceived the words of Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; they know not what they do,' as being answered right there and then in her own life.

In the coming weeks, Ace, in acceptance of the actuality of divine forgiveness, went on to forgive herself. Her chains fell off, her heart was free, and she rose, went forth, and followed her King.

Meditation Seven: The Harrowing of Hell

Matthew 27:51–54 (ESV): And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression - and with all this yet to die.”

― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Hebrews 2:14–15 (ESV): 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

The knowledge of impending death is a somber certainty for the crucified, and for many, this impending death is perceived as a liberating release from the shackles of earthly suffering. The torment, the anguish, and the relentless struggle of human existence is brought to an end.

Yet, for others, death is viewed with trepidation and fear; it represents the finality that extinguishes the potential and promise of a life fully lived, a potentiality which many of the crucified have never known.

The diverse myths, dreams, and theological beliefs about the afterlife significantly influence our perception of death. For some, the grave remains a mysterious abyss, an uncharted realm awaiting exploration. Others envision it as a realm of eternal bliss, where the soul finds solace and sanctuary, no longer overwhelmed by the storms of life. Conversely, there are those who see death as the ultimate full stop at the end of life's narrative, a punctuation mark denoting finality. Yet, another perspective is that the grave leads to a place of judgment, where the righteous ascend to the company of angels, while the wicked are consigned to a realm ruled by the powers of darkness.

The profound mystery of the cross, where Jesus gave up his life, is not immediately followed by the events of resurrection. Between the crucifixion on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday, there exists the enigma of Holy Saturday. During this period, Jesus' lifeless body lies in the tomb, his disciples grieve, and heaven seems silent.

However, as we turn to 1 Peter, and here, as we look into a mythic fog which has no scholarly consensus, we have a story in which the spirit of Jesus descended into uncharted territory—no-man's land, the abode of the dead.

1 Peter 3:18–19 (ESV): being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.

A few paragraphs later Peter expands on this by saying ‘1 Peter 4:6 (ESV): the gospel was preached even to those who are dead’

Let us take a moment to sketch out the ancient Jewish views on the afterlife. It is essential to recognize that this view is not monolithic; the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish writings preceding the New Testament present a rich tapestry of beliefs. Within the Old Testament, we encounter Sheol, a realm of shadowy existence, but we also find texts that allude to the resurrection of the dead. These texts envision a future time when the faithful will be bodily resurrected to partake in the age to come.

Psalm 6:5 (ESV): For in death there is no remembrance of you;

in Sheol who will give you praise?

Isaiah 5:14–15 (ESV): Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite

and opened its mouth beyond measure,

and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,

her revelers and he who exults in her.

15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,

and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.

Daniel 12:1–4 (ESV): 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end

1 Enoch 26

In those days the earth will return that which has been entrusted to it, and Sheol will return that which has been entrusted to it, that which it has received, and destruction will return what it owes. And he will choose the righteous and holy from among them, for the day has come near that they must be saved … And in those days the mountains will leap like rams, and the hills will skip like lambs satisfied with milk, and all will become angels in heaven. Their faces will shine with joy [or: like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy], for in those days the Chosen One will have risen; and the earth will rejoice, and the righteous will dwell upon it, and the chosen will go and walk upon it.

With these texts and perspectives in mind let’s return to 1 Peter where we read. ‘being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-19)….. gospel was preached even to those who are dead’ (4:6)

As we reflect on this place where Jesus descends into hell, we witness a remarkable display of divine solidarity with all who have faced mortality. On the cross, he identified with the suffering, and in his death, he stands as a participant in the realm of the grave, bridging the gap between life and death.

The bars and gates of Sheol, the mythic land of murky shadows, shattered as the crucified one arrived. Upon entering the prison of mortality, the spirit—or, we may say, the soul—of Jesus, while his body remained in the tomb, overwhelmed those who were keeping the spirits in captivity. The spirit of the God-Man Jesus was far from passive; it took on the active role of a preacher, proclaiming the gospel to those who inhabited this realm. The one who held the keys of death and Hades conquered death, liberating those who had been held captive. This 'harrowing of hell' served as a press conference to power and marked the beginning of Jesus's victory over the gatekeepers of death, a triumphant moment in the heavenly realm.

Revelation 1 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."

Ephesians 4 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." 9 (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Acts 2:27–28 (ESV): For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

28 You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Decades after the death of Jesus we find a Christian community reflecting on the liberation which Jesus brings to those entrapped by death.

Sheol saw me and was shattered,

And death ejected me and many with me.

I have been vinegar and bitterness to it,

And I went down with it as far as its depth.

Then the feet and the head it released,

Because it was not able to endure my face.

And I made a congregation of living among his dead;

And I spoke with them by living lips;

In order that my word may not be unprofitable.And those who had died ran towards me;And they cried out and said, “Son of God, have pity on us.And deal with us according to Thy kindness,And bring us out from the bonds of darkness.And open for us the doorby which we may go forth to you,

for we perceive that our death does not touch Thee.May we also be saved with you,

because you are our Savior.” (Odes of Solomon 42:11–18)

Nathan had been through hell and lived in fear. He had witnessed first hand the death of his brother, his defiant screams that refused to go silently into the night. And now with a terminal diagnosis he had plenty of time to reflect on his life and what he thought awaited him. He called the priest and made his confession but found little solace in the words of forgiveness she spoke.

One night he read afresh the gospels and as he fell asleep that night Nathan dreamed he was crucified next to Jesus. The cross represented his suffering and torment, but in that place he heard the words of Jesus say ‘today you will be paradise with me’. Awakening from his dream he had the realisation that Jesus was with him in both life and death, and that the death of of Jesus was neither the end of Jesus or the end of his life. Yes, the grave may take him, he thought, but Jesus has conquers the grave .

‘For the cross destroyed the enmity of God towards man, brought about the reconciliation, made the earth Heaven, associated men with angels, pulled down the citadel of death, unstrung the force of the devil, extinguished the power of sin, delivered the world from error, brought back the truth, expelled the Demons, destroyed temples, overturned altars, suppressed the sacrificial offering, implanted virtue, founded the Churches. The cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Son, the rejoicing of the Spirit, the boast of Paul, “for,” he says, “God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Gal 6:14]. The cross is that which is brighter than the sun, more brilliant than the sunbeam: for when the sun is darkened then the cross shines brightly: and the sun is darkened not because it is extinguished, but because it is overpowered by the brilliancy of the cross. The cross has broken our bond, it has made the prison of death ineffectual, it is the demonstration of the love of God’

- John Chrysosthem


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