Note: Post 3 of 4 in the Lenten series on healing the trauma of the crucifixion. Click the numbers to read parts 1 and 2.
Now it's time to look at how we could heal the memory of the crucifixion. Christopher Grundy, drawing from Judith Herman's book Trauma and Recovery, suggests working through this unresolved grief and trauma by following four steps: (1) naming and remembering the loss, (2) mourning the loss, (3) honoring the Church's resistance and survival; and then (4) integrating and expanding the story (159-177, unpublished).
In the first stage, the execution of Jesus should be named and remembered as an injustice to lament and a loss to grieve. One could say that instead of dying for our sins, Jesus died because of sin. More specifically, Jesus was killed because he preached about, and welcomed people into, an alternative Empire, God's Empire - and undermined the Roman Empire. He was killed for standing up for and embodying different values than the Roman Empire's system of domination. He was a threat to Rome's rule. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for standing up for a better America, Jesus was killed for standing up for a better Empire. The death of Jesus was not God’s will or an act of self-sacrifice by Jesus. Instead, Jesus lived to welcome people into the Empire of God – the dream and vision of God – a place of mutual care, radical inclusively, and broad justice. In the end, the leaders of the Roman Empire decided that the leader of this alternative Empire had to be killed for his seditious acts. This would have been deeply traumatic for the people who served with Jesus - and cared about him. The distraught disciples attempted to cope with their trauma by trying to find someone to blame that could make Jesus' crucifixion seem more tolerable. They assigned blame to God, Jesus, “the Jews,” our sins, etc. in order to make meaning out of it. But that doesn't mean that modern Christians need to repeat their coping mechanisms and the resulting theologies and traditions they developed out of their traumatic experience. For us, it's important for to name and remember Jesus’ unplanned, unjust, and unexpected murder on the cross as a trauma (cf. Grundy, 163-166).
After the trauma and loss is named and remembered, the second stage is mourning that loss. As modern Christians, we must allow ourselves to feel this loss in all of its pain. We must mourn the loss of the person who stood up for justice in the face of oppression, had fellowship with people who the culture declared untouchable, and re-presented God’s abiding presence and vision of shalom to many people. Jesus was killed in a deeply disturbing way. That is sad. That isn’t okay. That isn’t fair. That has to be mourned and grieved.
In the third stage, we must name and honor the acts of persistence and survival that occurred despite the traumatic crucifixion of Jesus. The first thing that can be mentioned is the fact that Jesus and his message were resilient in the face of the difficulties he faced. “As he begins to encounter opposition and real danger, it is his (non-violent) persistence in enacting the kin-dom of God…that witnesses to God’s activity with and through him” (Grundy, 170). Jesus persisted despite the threats. Second, the disciples were resilient both before and after the crucifixion. The life and ministry of Jesus were carried on – and continue to be carried on – by the community of resurrection called the Church. Third, God was resilient. “Rather than being primarily a sign or a message, the resurrection is God’s practical, cooperative activity within the communities of Jesus’ followers so that their work (and Jesus’) for the sake of the kin-dom can continue” (Grundy, 172). Death is not the end. Good memories can be found. Bad memories can be transformed. The “key to transforming memories is finding instances of resistance and agency and incorporating them into the testimony and witness. Being able to name and claim what people did to survive…is vitally important to their own process of healing and transformation” (Keshgegian, 121-122).
The last stage is integrating the memories of the grief/trauma and the stories of resistance so that the greater, ongoing narrative of resilient activity can be expanded – and the grief can shrink. According to Grundy, “If we are able to narrate and practice Jesus’ death as trauma, mourning his loss and celebrating the resistance and persistence of God, Jesus, and the saints for the sake of abundant life, then it becomes possible to allow the crucifixion to recede to its proper [smaller] place” (174). While we cannot ignore the fact of Jesus’ death, we can heal the memory of and grief from Jesus’ crucifixion.
We can move on. We can move on, knowing that we are the resurrection community of Jesus that continues his life ministry despite violence and injustice. We can move on, knowing that God continually brings forth hope for transformation. We can move on, knowing that the Empire of God has come near (Mark 1:15). The list of hopeful signs go on and on. While the grief and trauma will continue to be a part of our collective memory, we no longer have to allow it to dominate our theologies, traditions, and rituals.
Click here to read part 4 in the series.