During the spring of 1992 a business trip brought me to Italy including the island of Sardinia. While in its capital Cagliari, I attended Mass, one Sunday morning in one of its ancient Churches. Entering the church l encountered an enormous glass case holding the life size wax figure of Jesus moments after he was taken down from the cross. The life like representation of the corpse revealed all the victim’s terrible bloodied wounds. For me it represented the gruesome display of the evil some men continue to bring upon human beings.
This troubled focus was again highlighted this Holy Week by a national Catholic Newspaper. Describing Christ’s horrible sacrifice its author reveals in step by step detail the torture and pain endured by Jesus. By the time one finishes the article the reader will be convinced that the writer took a certain sadistic delight in describing the horrible scene. It reminded me of a gawking spectator who has just come across a terrible car accident. To describe the death of Jesus in this way, without the more important focus on his resurrection can only be described as dark pornography. Perhaps the author was just trying to outdo Mel Gibson.
But there now appears to be a better and new explanation why the Church has remained so focussed on the death rather than then resurrection of Christ. And it has been only recently revealed by two extraordinary authors by the names of Brock and Parker. Here follows a brief excerpt and explanation of their research.
During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, a healer, an enthroned god; he is an infant, a youth, and a bearded elder. But he is never dead. When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise – paradise of this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.
But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do.
When Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker began travelling the Mediterranean world in search of art depicting the dead, crucified Jesus, they discovered something that traditional histories of Christianity and Christian art had underplayed or sought to explain away; it took Jesus Christ a thousand years to die.
In their book Saving Paradise – ‘How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire’ (2008) authors Brock and Parker reconstruct the idea that salvation is paradise in this world and in this life, and the offer a bold new theology for saving paradise. They ground justice and peace for humanity in love for the earth and open a new future for Christianity through a theology of redemptive beauty.
Saving Paradise offers a fascinating new lens on the history of Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, and asks how its early vision of beauty evolved into one of torture. In tracing the changes in society and theology that marked the medieval emergence of images of Christ crucified,’Saving Paradise’ exposes the imperial strategies embedded in theologies of redemptive violence and sheds new light on Christianity’s turn to holy war. It reveals how the New World, established through Christian conquest and colonization, is haunted by the loss of a spiritual understanding of paradise here and now. According to the authors the subversion of the Christian message began with the ninth-century Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne, who instituted the death penalty for conquered people who refused to convert. After Charlemagne, killing, suffering and dying in the name of Christ began to represent the highest honour for Christians, the book maintains, adding that the attitude remains an undercurrent in some countries’ foreign policy.
Is it not time, especially during Holy Week, to take Jesus off the cross and allow him to finally address our and the Church’s many wounds so that we may rediscover a world alive with Christ's wonder and beauty?