Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Lent? DJesus Uncrossed, Tarantino, and Peter Rollins as Liturgical Reminders

The most recent episode of SNL cut from its live line-up of digital shorts a the full-length spoof on both Tarantino films and Jesus. The title: DJesus: Uncrossed. (warning: it's graphic) While many already have expressed fury over the potentially sacrilegious sketch, some Christians are pondering whether the film is actually more reflective of the Jesus we prefer and proclaim:

"That’s because even though the sketch satirized Tarantino, it also said something quite profound and revealing, if unintentionally, about how Americans have remade Jesus in our own violent images. Because, if truth be told, we’ve been trying to uncross Jesus for decades in this country, long before SNL got their pens into him."

--David Henson, DJesus: Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll, and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America)

As a constructive critic and propitious cynic, I actually was not all that offended. I actually found the short to be a perfect platform for Lenten reflections.

Lent is a season when we intentionally embark on a liturgical season of holy disturbance, repentance, and confession. We are invited to hold off on anxious bombardments of an empty Easter tomb. We hold in memory for forty days the reality that only through the sacrificial offering at the cross can we begin to consider the beauty of resurrection. We must first grieve the suffering and death of Jesus before we can ponder how God's raising the Messiah from his death validates the mission and ministry of Christ.

We need the cross. But we prefer not to suffer.

We want life eternal. But we hesitate to crucify our sin.

We long to follow the way of Jesus. But DJesus seems to be our preferred religious leader...

...the gospels call him Jesus Barabbas, the rebel insurrectionist (Matt. 27:15-26; Mk. 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25).

When we encounter Lent and observe the sacred season en route to Holy Week, we consider the ways in which we have strayed from the mission of God in Christ. We contemplate our propensity to pursue the wide and easy road of destruction out of convenience, fear, and insecurity about the message Jesus proclaimed (Mt. 7:13-124). We lament the real manifestations of violence, injustice, and oppression all around us, many which we have turned a blind eye to and thus enabled their progress. We repent from our obsession with power, luxury, privilege, and comfort and turn towards (again and again) the pilgrimage of faith where we encounter and advocate on behalf of the poor, hungry, estranged, and different.

Lent is an invitation to remember that when Jesus bids us come and follow we pick up cross and travel the narrow and hard road of discipleship. This road assumes sacrifice. This adventure requires surrender. This way called the kingdom is pursued at a very high cost.

Even the cost of everything. Even the cost of our very lives.

In Peter Rollin's collection of modern parables, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, he tells the (fictitious) story of an early Christian community. They had left Jerusalem before the third day, "weighed down with sorrow," and founded a community far from the Holy City "where they vowed to keep the memory of Christ alive and live in simplicity, love, and forgiveness. just as [Jesus] had taught them" (67).

They left before the resurrection. They lived into the kingdom of God with no knowledge that life had once and for all conquered death. They followed as faithful disciples despite knowing that their commitment to the Way of Jesus may lead to their death.

They were willing to give Jesus their all even if it cost them all.

Then came missionaries to this village with "good news" of Jesus' resurrection.

But was it really good news?

While all celebrated this beautiful vindication of their Messiah, one of the elders confided through tears to a new friends:

"Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children's children may follow him, not becuase of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life" ("Being the Resurrection" 69).

In other words, when Jesus is uncrossed Christianity becomes a self-promoting, me-centered, other-world focused faith void of this-world influence and concern.

It can even become aggressive and violent in defense.

That's why Lent. Lent brings the cross back into the conversation and reminds us that Jesus' message is about the here and now, too. Lent focuses the discipleship lens on the crucifixion and proclaims the truth that following Christ is a transformative and life-altering sacrifice. Lent confronts our tendency to uncross Christ and reject confrontations with evil and sin that needs to die.

But thanks be to God for the resurrection. The empty tomb is our only, although sometimes faint, hope that cruciform Lenten journeys are not the end of the road. They are not the end of life.

They are only the beginning.

But Lent is a cross-carrying journey that cannot and should not be avoided.

After all, Jesus was crossed.


My Confession: I Deny the Resurrection (a blogpost by Peter Rollins)