It was a stunning setback; a devastating defeat; a loss that jeopardized every future action contemplated by an increasingly authoritarian regime. Relying on their always effective overwhelming might, they used their most effective tactic but came up short. They had more than enough of everything to win and win big, but they failed. They couldnâ€™t get it done; and if they couldnâ€™t get this done, how could they expect to get the rest of their agenda done? Their first reaction was to be expected: Find someone to blame. Their second was expected too: They had to control the narrative. They had to get ahead of â€” spin â€” the story in order to remain â€śthe powers-that-be.â€ť You may have seen something like that lately.
You see, in crucifying Jesus, the regime and its collaborators had to complete three goals:
First, and frankly, least significant, was to rid themselves of a meddlesome Galilean.
Second, to negate Jesusâ€™ message about the â€śkingdom of heaven,â€ť â€” about its breadth, its ethics and its justice â€” which Jesus was presenting as a real, viable contrast to the ethics and justice and breadth of Imperial Rome. Third, to suppress Jesusâ€™ message - and any who might
resonate with that message - so publicly, painfully, and convincingly that no one would even think of promoting it again. And so they chose the most public, most tried and true, most effective tactic they had to accomplish these goals: public, torturous, humiliating, example-setting, zeal-suppressing crucifixion so that they could get back to business as usual.
This was so important that they even took out a little extra insurance. They supervised the burial. They oversaw the tombâ€™s closing. They sealed it with the official imperial seal. They posted guards and by late Friday evening, just about sundown they were satisfied that Jesus and his message would never be heard from again. They might have even contemplated taking the rest of the weekend off. Maybe a quick trip to that seaside resort they had built by for themselves and their collaborating sycophants would give them what they were entitled to.
So when they heard that the seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty; when they learned that their posted guards were â€śleakingâ€ť a story about Jesusâ€™ resurrection, they were apoplectic. "Fake news," they insisted. And after paying off those
blabbing guards, they convinced them to broadcast an â€śalternative truth:â€ť the disciples stole the body. Authoritarian tactics, you see, never change. To remain dominant, to keep the system firmly in control, you need to control the narrative. You might have seen that lately too.
It wasnâ€™t just Jesusâ€™ resurrection that was a problem for the powers-that-be. It was the news about Jesusâ€™ resurrection; the storyline that the full impact of imperial power could not suppress a system-busting alternative story. They had publicly crucified Jesus â€” publicly being the operative word â€” to sustain their particular narrative: That only might makes right. That there is no alternative to the coercive power of fear. That the greatest sin was to take on the system and question the â€śtruthsâ€ť told to keep the system in place. They publicly crucified Jesus to make this publicly clear; and they labeled that vindictive crucifixion â€śjustice;â€ť the end of Jesusâ€™ and his â€śkingdom of heaven on earth as in heavenâ€ť story. â€śFake newsâ€ť because it opposed the story the system needed to survive. You might have seen that tactic lately too.
You see, for the whole breadth of human history, there have always been two competing stories
about the way life and our world work. One story is a domination story, a story that can be labeled â€śsurvival of the fittest.â€ť It postulates that there must be an entitled few who hold the power, shape the narrative, maintain order and keep an always tenuous peace by coercion and force. Two â€śtruthsâ€ť are needed to maintain that story line. First, that there are not enough resources for all. Second, that everyone must feel constantly threatened, constantly wary of â€śthe otherâ€ť; â€śthe otherâ€ť who must be labeled, humiliated, shamed, segregated, excluded, exterminated â€” often in the most heinous and always in the most public way â€” think, crucifixion â€” so that the dominant few and those who aspire to become them might control all the resources and wield most of the power. That story is compelling, in the sense that it forces us to shape our lives and our world according to it. In Jesusâ€™ day it was played out in countless oppressions and thousands of crucifixions, not just the crucifixion of Jesus. Today, this story line is being played out in Syria and Korea; at Standing Rock and Federal Plaza and in the politics of virtually every nation. It is a narrative being incessantly reinforced, viewed, read, shared, posted, tweeted, liked, emoticonned and instagrammed everywhere by nearly everyone and because it is so pervasive,
we have come to believe it is absolutely true. It draws its energy from the finality of death. It feeds on fear and, these days, it is extremely well fed. Its essence is distilled daily in these two words: breaking news. It shapes our lives.
There is another story, a liberation story; a story not of domination, but of those who come, not to be served but to serve. It draws its energy from life that conquers death. It feeds on love, love freely given when one domination system has done its worse by crucifying its most effective proponent and discovered that his grave was empty and his followers had seen him alive. It asserts that there is enough for all â€” enough water to refresh and renew and revive every child of earth; enough nourishment, enough bread and wine to nourish and enliven and bind together all who live this side of the grave or on the other. It is a story that invites us to see ourselves in the other, to label them â€śneighborâ€ť and to love them as we love ourselves. It is an inviting story, not a compelling story. It rejects coercion, humiliation, shame, exclusion, segregation and extermination. It postulates eternal life, abundant life, not just for some but for all. Its essence is also distilled, continually and always in these two words: For us. For all.
Every time we say: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia;
Every time we dare to plunge someone like Marco into the waters of baptism;
Every time we break the bread, share the cup, remember Christ and offer this meal to all;
Every time we act, like God, and show no partiality;
Every time we embrace a companion; forgive an enemy; forgive a friend;
Every time we lift up the poor, shelter the homeless, feed hungry, bring healing to the sick;
Every time we welcome a stranger;
Every time we put the welfare of the earth above our immediate wants or needs;
Every time we offer sanctuary and refuge; visit or accompany the imprisoned or insecure;
Every time we refuse to let fear rule our lives;
Every time we bury our dead and expect to see them once again;
Every time we love â€” we live our lives according to that great story; that embracing narrative; that holy, â€śalternative truth.â€ť
Sisters and brothers: the world needs us to live our lives and shape our society according to that story. We need each other to live that story. We need to change the hearts and minds of all who
would call this story â€śfake news.â€ť
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Thatâ€™s our story. Letâ€™s stick with it!
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peterâ€™s Church
In the City of New York