This will be the first time in three years that I do not spend Good Friday protesting at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Laboratory, about an hour inland from San Francisco. This is an annual vigil-slash-protest, held there for at least 30 years (imagine good old-fashioned Bay Area peace activists with a Jesus streak in them). It’s continuing this very week.
Livermore is one of two labs in the United States where the national nuclear arsenal is developed. The protests are motivated by local and global concerns, ranging from the environmental contaminants the lab leaks into the neighborhood’s groundwater to the use of nuclear armaments as foreign policy. Each Good Friday, around a hundred protestors gather at daybreak for sermons and songs and prayers, and then process to the gates of the laboratory, where dozens of them cross onto the restricted property in an act of civil disobedience.
Now, the connections between a nuclear lab and Jesus’ death on the cross may not be immediately clear – at least not to those outside the peace churches. But I appreciate the linkage all the more because this protest takes a wide view of crucifixion. It takes crucifixion to represent any and all means an imperial state uses to control populations and persons who are in its way. The wooden cross was the horrific death of choice in Roman times. Nuclear war, as modeled by our own American Empire, is certainly a horror, too.
One of the greatest atrocities our nation has committed was the atomic bombs our soldiers dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki toward the end of World War II (August 1945). The high school textbook account of history justifies this killing of innocent civilians as the way to ‘send a message’ about ending the war to their political leaders, who were, admittedly, despicably violent themselves. Unfortunately, this logic of killing civilians to send a message to their leaders is exactly what we could label ‘terrorism’/terroristic, now that we know how wrong it feels when such methods of ‘persuasion’ are used against US. But long before September 11th, 2001, we could-have-should-have known how wretched it feels to have cities broken in such a way, if only we bothered to look into the scarred faces of survivors of the atomic blasts or to look for the many thousands who didn’t survive. The Good Friday vigil at Livermore urges us to look, and to keep looking. Good Friday itself urges us to keep looking.
A wide view of crucifixion sees the shadow of the cross in the shadows cast by fallout stretching across the land. A wide view of crucifixion links our witness as Christians to protesting and, indeed, stopping crucifixion wherever it may be, in whatever malicious form it may take, whenever warring madness attempts to wrench the last word from our lips.
At the same time, the Christian pacifist’s wide view is coupled with a narrow, particular view of crucifixion: that the most essential meaning we ought to read in Jesus’ murder is that his be different than all others because it could-be-should-be the last. such. death. Our heartbreak in witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion calls us to create a world where that need never happen again.
We remember the gory details of it not out of some morbid curiosity but so that we can adopt new vision that opens our eyes to see the wounds of our sisters and brothers around the world. We remember the heart-wrenching agony of the loss of our Christ so that we are empowered to stop those wooden crosses from going up before the forests are even logged. We remember because once is more than enough.
Our Christ Jesus faced murder so that you and I don’t have to; so that the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the children of Nanking and Rangoon and of Dresden and London and Moscow and Warsaw did not have to.
But. They did die. We, humanity, did betray them and all victims of war and the God who gave them life. And so we gather their souls at the base of the cross to join with Jesus’ urging us to REMEMBER – RE-MEMBER THEM. This act of memory is not magic but is still the key to ending all this horror, IF WE LET IT BE. IF we let the remembrance of Christ and all who are crucified guide our every step, fill our every breath, resonate in our every song, be tasted in every sip and every bite.
The cup and the bread that Jesus shared with his disciples and with us are an answer to Good Friday, as a symbol that helps us recognize a symbolic meaning in his death – that his body was broken so that no more need ever be broken, so that no one ever need feel as forsaken as he did that Friday because Christians around the world resist letting anyone else feel the pain they have experienced - because Christians around the world are proclaiming their Lord’s death as one more murder than they’re willing to tolerate.
Jesus offered us the bread and the cup as Christian milk and honey drawing us to a promised land beyond the violence, injustice, and terror of Empire. He hands us this meal to be nourished in our outrage and our sorrow and our hope so that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness, manna for the coming of Kindom that drives out the despair of war and oppression. He hands us the elements of our Love Feast as a foretaste of a new creation where all people are recognized as sisters and brothers around one holy table.
and Sibiu and Amsterdam and Kobnhavn and Manzanar…)
Even we who were not yet born then live lives originated in that sin. A wide view of crucifixion hold a wide view of betrayal, as well.
Where every war is recognized as a war among brothers and among sisters because we are all members of one family.
Audrey deCoursey is Associate Pastor of the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois.