your death was
it was the death
of uncounted criminals
convicted under Roman law
in fact, two others died with you
on that same hill, on that same day
in that same way: bloody suffocation on a cross
so if you had lived today your death
would have been likewise ordinary
and likewise brutal:
exploded veins in the electric chair
after an unfair trial
or blood gushing out
on a road with a busted street lamp,
an officer’s bullet in your gut,
no trial at all.
this is why
your death matters.
because it didn’t — not to the ones who killed you,
not to the soldier who thrust a lance in your side
as he had done to so many men
on so many days like this one
not to the men who cast lots for your clothes,
profiting off your pain
your death matters, your death is precious
because it was common, ordinary —
you share the agony
of every tortured spirit who has ever walked this earth
you share every cry
muffled under the boot of one in power.
and so i know that
they with whom you have shared
will also share in your rising.
…i have no words for this.
it is beyond words.
all i have is
This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at firstname.lastname@example.org for that permission, or just to chat!
About this poem:
Womanist theologians and other Black theologians, joined with Latin American liberationist theolgians and many others, have argued that substitutionary atonement deeply harms some of the world’s most oppressed persons — the very persons with whom Jesus most intimately identifies. As Miguel De La Torre explains in Embracing Hopelessness,
But as we let go of these beliefs in God’s “need” for a sacrifice to assuage “his” anger, does the cross retain any meaning at all?
The answer is, of course.
Jesus’s death was hideously ordinary — and hence infinitely meaningful. As Richard Rohr said, “God did not die for us. God died with us.”
Through the cross, Jesus exposed the violence that is so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to it for the evil it is — a key example being antiblack violence that forms a core tenet of white supremacy and is one foundation of the United States. Jesus’s execution is akin to the lynchings, shootings, and executions of countless Black lives in the United States — and, James Cone argues in The Cross and the Lynching Tree,
Through the cross, Jesus showed us that God’s power is not human power — is not control through violence, but rather is compassion, is co-suffering, is interdependence and solidarity and letting go of the need for control. But God’s power is antithetical to white supremacy and other oppressive powers, and so Christianity entangled in Empire will continue to promote the God whose anger demands blood and tortures it out of “His” own son.
Furthermore, the dominating powers of Empire — from first century Rome to today’s America — attempt to strip humanity and dignity from those they deem useless or dangerous. But through the cross, Jesus reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of the world’s most reviled, tortured, and discarded — for what they suffer, God has suffered. This is why Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion still matter, even if they are not the key to salvation. De La Torre’s discussion of the cross continues thus:
We must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people. How will you and your communities do so?