This Lenten season, Easter, a day of hope, renewal, and promise, feels very far away. On the heels of a deadly pandemic and persisting hate crimes against Asian Americans resulting in death and widespread harassment, the shadow of Good Friday feels nearer, too familiar, and more of our reality.
Oppression, exclusion, and violence against Asian and Black communities are as old as this nation. We are all swimming in the evils of white supremacy, misogyny, purity culture, and gun culture, whether we violently perpetuate it, internalize it, or remain silent in the face of it. Last week, all these harmful systems of oppression collided, resulting in the murder of 8 people, including six Asian working-class women.
I recently finished The Cross and the Lynching Tree by the late Rev. James Cone, which is a critical, stretching read for all Christians, but feels particularly relevant as we approach Good Friday and remember the people murdered in Atlanta. In the book, Reverend Cone draws a connection between the state-sanctioned crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching era of 1880-1940, where white Christians killed nearly 5,000 Black men and women. He rightfully accused Christians of not seeing any irony or contradictions in their actions - worshipping a crucified Christ and then turning around to crucify their Black neighbors. To him, this parallel is obvious and clear as day. But the hypocrisy continues today as too many people of faith refuse to proclaim that Black Lives Matter and dismiss the police violence against our Black neighbors. This week, we were hit with the grave reminder that our violent white supremacy culture also supports anti-Asian racism that led to the deaths in Atlanta.
Rev. Cone laments the degradation of the cross, saying: “Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, this symbol of salvation has been detached from any reference to the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings - those whom Ignacio Ellacuría, the Salvadoran martyr, called 'the crucified peoples of history.' The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the 'cost of discipleship,' it has become a form of 'cheap grace,' an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”
Easter reminds us that we are being offered radical grace, not a cheap, necklace grace. Acceptance of this radical grace moves us to action. Recognizing that God was in full solidarity with Jesus during the crucifixion, we are called to be in solidarity with our Black and Asian neighbors and actively confront the evils of white supremacy.
Cone gives us a chilling ultimatum: “Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”
This past week, we were harshly reminded that our liberation is bound to one another - that none of us are free until we are all free. As near and familiar as this Good Friday feels, as Christians, we also can rest in the belief that Easter does come. God’s promise is fulfilled. We won’t live like this forever, and it’s through repentance, solidarity, and action that we will transform our society to usher in the Beloved community.