Today the Church ponders the horror of the Cross. Despite knowing what happens next we are appalled by this shameful method of execution. Stripped naked, slow asphyxiation killed the victim who tires of the agony of lifting himself up to breathe. A dreadful lingering death – to encourage others to obey the might of Rome.
Chagall’s painting demonstrates this horror but sets Jesus’ death amongst pogrom and persecution. For Chagall Jesus was just another Jew who had been persecuted. We, as Christians, might turn it around and say that Jesus is killed again and again in his people in places where we are persecuted for faith, politics, gender, or sexuality. Still Jesus is hung on the Cross as he suffers with His people.
The Church has always wanted to find meaning in Jesus’ death – to theorise about atonement and make sense of senseless brutality. I must confess many of these theories leave me cold as they seek to explain mystery at the heart of the Godhead. As the Father grieves, Jesus dies, drawing into the life of God’s own self the suffering, pain and inhumanity of our world. In the face of that mystery all theories are partial.
Chagall hoped the Russians would save the Jews persecuted by the Nazis; his hopes, and those of the Jewish people, were cruelly dashed. We hope to find salvation in politics, economics or military might. Today we realise that salvation is found in Jesus’ love, weakness and, seeming, failure.