Creation on the Cross
But we proclaim Christ crucified. – 1 Corinthians 1:23 (NRSV)
Years ago in Santa Fe, a local artist created a stir with her painting of the Crucifixion. In place of Jesus on the cross, the artist put a gorilla. Rather than Roman soldiers or Mary and the other women bearing witness below, the artist included animals of all kinds. Like their human counterparts, some turned their heads away, others stared with sorrow at what was happening above them.
For weeks, the local paper was filled with letters about the painting. Many devout Christians saw the artist’s depiction as sacrilegious and mocking of Jesus’ passion. They felt their faith was ridiculed and their Savior denigrated. Other people used the controversy to paint (no pun intended) all Christians as close-minded sticks-in-the-mud opposed to freedom of expression. Few people seemed to get the artist’s message—that just as the powers and principalities of Jesus’ time had nailed him to the cross, we modern humans were killing off the rest of creation.
Climate change and other environmental crises make that long-ago painting even more relevant. Jesus’ crucifixion certainly demonstrates what we human beings are capable of doing to one another. Yet as Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians, the cross also proclaimed God’s power of life over our ways of death. For Paul, the cross called the early Christians to turn away from death to trust God’s promise of new life, not just for themselves but for others.
I doubt Paul ever saw a gorilla, much less one on a cross. Yet had the apostle lived in our time of deforestation, global warming, and other ways we crucify creation, I think he would understand the artist’s message. Do we have the courage to face the cross of creation and acknowledge what we’ve done to this earth? Can Lent’s hard journey to Easter lead us to new ways of living so that the rest of life on this planet can live?
Forgive us, Lord, for crucifying your creation. Give us the courage to repent and turn to your ways of life. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Parts 1 and 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.