From the Cross, to the Tree, to the Streets

Murder in the street

As I reflect on the historical moment that changed the course of the world which involved the crucifixion of a Jewish carpenter-turned-preacher that provoked a bunch of Galilean common-folk turned evangelists to share this Jewish man’s story for the transformation of the world, I am compelled to ponder the implications of that event on men of comparable stature, both historically and current day.

When Jesus was on his way to die on Calvary’s hill on Good Friday so many years ago, he wasn’t the first to endure such a fate. The Roman Empire had been lifting persons up on rugged crosses long before Jesus, and continued after. But a strange thing happened as the story about Jesus’ crucifixion spread throughout the region… the followers of the Way took the dominant culture’s form of oppression and began to reclaim the cross as their own symbol of strength, courage, duty and victory! The cross that was once a symbol of fear for an oppressed group now became a symbol of hope and redemption. The power of the cross took on the power of Jesus as a salvific symbol of victory.

Of course, however, when the dominant culture discovers that one method of oppression is no longer potent, another method is created. Fast forward to America where a new form of human oppression takes place: Slavery. The cross has lost its power to invoke fear but the whipping post and the tree has taken its place. The whipping post, which is nothing more than a tree stump, becomes the residence of many African slaves as a means of control and fear. The tree, post-slavery and during the Jim Crow era, becomes the method to strike fear in the hearts of Blacks. Blacks are being hung from trees like pinatas, and blood flowing in the fields and on the hands of whites has led to much fear in the Black community. Yet once again, the oppressed galvanizes to remove the fear created by tree, and reclaims its community, its culture, and its rights. As James Cone accurately notes in his work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, “The crucifixion was a first-century lynching.” The community of preachers, evangelists, teachers, lawyers, and many others moved with intensified focus to reclaim victory lost by the fear caused by the tree, rendering the tree powerless. As Cone notes, “The cross can redeem the lynching tree, and thereby bestow upon lynched black bodies an eschatological meaning for their ultimate existence.” In other words, when we replace the fear of the tree with the redemptive, sacrificial work of God in the lives of black and brown bodies, we create opportunities of eternal liberation for everyone.

Fast forward to current day… Black bodies being martyred in the streets. No more trees, no more crosses, just the streets. Our black bodies are being put on display in the streets, creating fear, indignation, and hopelessness. Many are galvanizing toward progress and awareness, yet many are confused and fearful about what is happening. Many are at the altar, the chancel, the confession booth, and the prayer closet bombarding Heaven asking God, “What is going on? Are we repeating history?” However, the question we need to answer for the hope that is to come is, “Are we going to reclaim our streets the way Christians reclaimed the cross?” As we enter into our churches on this Good Friday to remember our Savior who was slain, can we put into the grave the oppression we face in preparation for victory of the reclamation that we anticipate on Easter? Can we reclaim the streets and our communities, and rise from the despair that has been caused by these slain black bodies with victory and power given to us by our Messiah? My hope is that Easter will give us power to reclaim, regroup, and move toward a victorious future.



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