March 29, 2024

The Outraged Christ

This homily was preached in Liverpool Cathedral at the service of evening prayer at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, 2024.

“Enter not into judgement with your servant, for in your sight shall no one living be justified.”

The first thing that I notice about The Outraged Christ is that it is made of wood.
A human body portrayed with wood in such a raw manner puts me in mind of the creation narrative in Genesis 1. On each of the six days, we read that God creates something, but on the third and sixth days we read that God creates something extra. On the third day, this extra creature is the tree, brought up from the earth. On the sixth day, this extra creature is the human, moulded out of the earth.

This mirrored creation sets humanity and trees up as reflections of one another. As we breathe in, they breathe out. As we breathe out, they breathe in. In this way, the story of humanity as given in the Bible becomes a story of trees.

From the very beginning, we fall out of step with the trees. We are invited to eat from all of the trees in the garden, including the tree of life, but we reject the offer of life and choose death with the knowledge of good and evil instead. We discover that without life, there is no good, and we continue in evil, in sin, out of step with our tree siblings.

We breathe out, they breathe in. We burn out, they cannot breathe any more in.

The second thing that I notice about The Outraged Christ is that it is asymmetric. On Passion Sunday, we sang of the cross: “Upon its arms, like balance true, he weighed the price for sinners due.”

When we look at the arms of The Outraged Christ, we see that this balance was always off. There was never a chance of equality. We have sinned and our sins are weighty. On the cross, Christ bears the weight of our individual consciences, but also of our corporate sins. Christ bears the megatons of bombs detonated to kill his beloved siblings; Christ bears the 18 billion tonnes of CO2 we annually emit that our trees cannot inhale; Christ bears the weight of the bricks of this cathedral, cemented, as Tayo Aluko says, with African blood. The balance was always off. The weight is too much.

The third thing that I notice about The Outraged Christ is that the nails aren’t load-bearing. As far as I can see, only one of the nails actually reaches the wood of the cross, and its whole point isn’t lodged.

The weight of sin is too great to be borne by wood and iron. The weight of sin is too great to be borne by the cruelty of the crucifiers. The weight of sin is too great to be borne by anything but goodness. Nails cannot hold Christ to the cross, only love.

Christ’s leg is bent, seeming as though he is about to leap from the cross. Unbound by nails and cruelty, he is free to leave at any time, but in his great love he chooses to stay. He is outraged by sin, but this does not cause him to seek to cast it off, but to hold it on the tree.

This is why we call this day Good. This is why we gather at the foot of this tree. Because Christ has returned us to the tree. Christ has taken the fruit of sin from our hands and put it back on the tree, and in doing so has transformed it from a cursed tree to the tree of life. The Christ-fruit dies, is taken from the tree, and is planted in the ground. On the third day, when we get there, we see the new growth, we are invited once more to eat of this fruit from the tree of life that it might live and grow in us. But for now, let us gaze upon this tree, upon its terrible load, and upon Christ who bears it there, not by nails or by cruelty, but by love.

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