This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Happy Easter!  He is Risen Indeed!

I have a cross necklace that I received as a gift for Christmas. This cross is a little larger than others I have worn. It is noticeable. And it is also a little annoying. When I sit, it pokes me in the chest with sharp corners. I have to say that I’m glad. Crosses, the ones with real meaning, are like that. They are, one might say, offensive.

Christians use the cross as an emblem of our belief. It’s on our churches and the back windows of our cars. It’s draped around our bodies in jewelry and tattooed on our skin. It decorates the walls of our homes (which remain vampire free; it works). We could have stuck with a fish, or some symbol that looked like an empty tomb. But we are drawn to the cross, to the horizontal and vertical confluence of earth and heaven, the geometric representation of the person of Jesus.

Today, the holiest day of the Christianity, we remember that ultimately powerless cross of 2000 years ago, where Jesus of Nazareth died for a while. Crucifixion was hardly unique. It was just one implement of misery used by an empire adept at causing suffering and death, for all their greatness in other areas. (Like all powerful empires and nations.) I think that maybe his cross can seem offensive to moderns because it was not special. Thorns, scourges, beatings, blood, nails, ropes, spears, insults, nakedness. The way common convicts died, in pain and fear. Is it offensive because it was so common? Maybe. We like our deities the way we like our politicians, super-heroes and entertainers; rich, powerful, invulnerable. Jesus, on earth, was none of those things.

Of course, the cross may be offensive, even painful to us today because we can inherit it. Jesus said, ‘if any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.’ It looms over the believer’s life, saying ‘what have you done for the one who hung here?’ But we prefer small crosses, with smooth edges and no demands, that we can stow away for Sunday.

Or it could be that the cross is annoying and offensive because it meant judgment and punishment. We prefer to pretend, in our moral and spiritual superiority, that there must be no judgment of anyone, for any reason. And we certainly don’t want to see punishment meted out, unless it’s against our ideological enemies. But just maybe, the entire story we celebrate today offends because it exactly what we need, and exactly what we refuse. The world wants the love of the teaching, healing Jesus. The world is offended and frustrated by the moral, righteous Jesus and by the very idea that we sin and need atonement. (This despite the fact that we believe fully in sin, we just call it things like intolerance or hatred, phobia, greed or ignorance.)

The story is also offensive to us because it spits in the eye of death, the one thing we fear most of all (an idol for modern man if ever there was one). I mean, that we decorate ourselves with the instrument of our Lord’s torture and murder can only be by his design; perhaps it’s even his way of goading the devil; a cosmic, ‘told you so!’

The resurrected Jesus also offends because he rises above the hatred we want to hold so closely as our own possession. Jesus lives, dies and rises for all who will accept the gift: for ISIS fighters and the Christians they usher into martyrdom, for gay rights activists as well as fundamentalist Christians. The same for liberal and conservative, rich and poor, for Israeli and Palestinian, city and country, atheist and believer, Democrat, Republican, Communist or Tea Partier. Easter offends because the tortured, resurrected Jesus gives us no excuse for our own varied ways of hating and marginalizing. The stunning, love soaked sacrifice he made was the most democratic, the most universal, ever offered.

Today, we celebrate the offending, offensive, loving, pursuing, resurrected Christ. No amount of apologizing for him will make him less annoying to the world, so we needn’t worry about trying. And no amount of your own pride or sin will make him love you less. His cross, wounds and empty tomb are witness to that truth.

He is risen indeed!

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