Representation Matters, Christian Edition

This post is particularly intended for my fellow humans who claim Christ, and more particularly a subset of these fellows who are white and think representation is a newfangled idea born of newfangledism.

Jesus’ story is a story of representation. Pretty much exactly as we mean the term today. The story of Jesus says representation matters. And it says it over and over again.

The story begins in the womb of an unwed mother. Jesus is born on the way to a religious pilgrimage. As a baby, Jesus, along with his mother and stepfather, become political refugees seeking asylum from certain harm.

Representation matters. Jesus was a Nazarene. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but to the people of the day Nazarene whispered words like thug and animal.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. He was homeless as an adult. His friends were a rough sort—tax collector and fishermen and the like. He ate with prostitutes. He was unbothered coming near to children and lepers and bleeding women and Samaritans and a freshly caught adulteress.

Representation matters. Jesus broke the rules of his society. He angrily purged the temple for its failure in purpose. He fed people who were hungry and healed those deemed worthless and unclean by society.

His first recorded miracle was extraordinary in its simplicity and lack of religiosity: he turned water to wine for wedding guests because his mother asked him to.

Representation matters. Jesus avoided those in power who sought to trap him, to kill him. He made the powerful small whenever they interacted.

Representation matters. And Jesus died as a political captive. For no crime but angering those with power. On baseless accusations of nonexistent threats to overthrow Caesar. So hated that the mob chose to free a known murderer just to kill Christ.

Representation matters. From the one who bore his cross to the one who bought his tomb, from the sinner on his left to the sinner on his right, from his best friend to his grieving mother, the lowly are the ones highlighted.

Representation matters. Women found the empty tomb. If you wanted to build a false religion around a tomb not really emptied, it wouldn’t begin with women. With unbelievable, unbelieved people without class or station. But this is the story of Jesus and representation matters more than society’s systematic oppression.

Jesus challenged institutional racism (see the Samaritans), systemic oppression of the poor and those without a class, the lofty proclaiming their own loft, the way things have always been done. Jesus practiced socialized medicine and fed people in a socialized manner in that he fed whoever hungered.

Jesus even counseled that the first will become last and the last will become first.

Representation matters. It matters to Jesus enough to fill his story with people who had little representation. It still matters today.

Note that Jesus, obviously, was Jewish by birth, born in Bethlehem (Palestine). You can know if you view Jesus as default white simply by this litmus test: when you picture the Jesus you let into your heart, is he in any way a brown man of a dispossessed race?

Consider that Jesus was born as he was, where he was, and when he was on purpose. The savior we both claim walked this earth—and was always meant to—as a brown man of the Middle East, a member of an oppressed race.

I am represented in Jesus’ story as a woman, as a sinner, as a believer, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, as a person who bleeds, as a person in need, as a member of a different race. I have found my representation in the story and it matters to me. And his ability to lift up the representation of so many, that matters to me too.

I owe no less in my story than to reveal a broad representation of people. Both in my real story and my fictional stories. There are many still waiting to see themselves in the story of America, the stories on our shelves and televisions, and the stories of American infrastructure. As Christians, we have a well-made blueprint of inclusion and representation. If only we’ll use it.

Burnt

Yesterday I sat in a beautiful, air conditioned, comfortable room with hundreds of others for the purpose of worshipping our God.

As worship progressed, time came for communion, when we eat of unleavened bread and drink fruit of the vine: matzo and grape juice. After a recent conversation with my mom, I’ve made a concerted effort to focus myself on this time, and it’s been so interesting. Last week, as I noted on the book of Faces, an image of the cross stole my thoughts. A few weeks ago, both cracker and juice tasted uncommonly sweet. Yesterday, I had a unique experience (well, unique to me anyway).

The golden plate passed from my husband to me. I lifted one corner. It did not snap right away. Trying to ensure crackers did not fly all over the place, I pushed harder. It broke and I quickly ferreted the bit of matzo into my mouth, hoping to delay the passing tray no more.

Bitterness. Burnt flour. Astringence. Though the bite was small, the flavor dispersed throughout my mouth. I tried to swallow. Song arose around me. A piece, a rather large piece, stuck in my tooth.

My tongue pushed across the jagged tooth. I sucked. I pushed. I sucked. I did everything short of sticking my finger in my mouth to dig it out.

I tried ignoring it. I began to sing but the song ended. Thanks was given for the juice and it began to pass.

The juice. Who knows what it actually tasted like? I didn’t. My mouth remained overwhelmed by the burnt cracker. The juice in my mouth only layered a cloying fragrance over burned ash. Still, the bit of cracker stuck.

I wonder how the meal tasted to my Lord when he ate it the night he was betrayed. Was any piece burned? Did he taste strangely sweet bread or acrid meal? Did it stick at all in his teeth? Did he run his tongue over rough teeth to loosen the bread? Did the juice/wine change the flavor? Did it enhance the bread or feel sickly sweet?

Every meal is not the same. Communion seems largely cookie cutter across congregations. Many of the same thoughts are shared. Many of the same prayers are said. Many of the same golden plates or wicker plates are passed. Many of the crackers look exactly the same. Many of the cups cannot be distinguished, even after a drink has been taken.

But every meal is not the same. However the bread and juice/wine tasted to Jesus on that night we remember, it was not the same meal as he had eaten for so many years with his family and his friends. This meal was different. Markedly so.

He had things to say. He had heaviness upon his heart. Did his mouth run dry? Was it difficult to swallow? Did he hope that by saying the things he did he might change the hearts or minds of the others? Did he know it was futile but necessary? This was a different meal.

I have been repulsed by the sight of an ugly cross. I have felt close to my God and my Savior. I have marveled at the uncommon sweetness of the meal. I have been distracted. The meal is always different. But this meal, yesterday, was different still.

This meal held me in a moment and would not let me go. This meal brought my whole focus to it. It hurt my tongue. It would not pass. This meal held the promise of something good and the reality of something awful. This meal was a meal with my Lord.

In my own (extremely slight) discomfort, I saw Christ in new dimensions. In my own (admittedly small) distaste, I transported to the most distasteful moments of his existence. He was stuck, like that bit of burnt bread, and he could have gotten out of it, like I could have dug out that bread. He could have but he didn’t. He could have been rid of the foul events about to happen. But he took it. He took the humiliation. He took the wrongful conviction. He took the beating and pain. He took the cross. He took the nails. He took the vinegar. He took his last breath.

He ate with his friends. He tried to help them prepare. He prayed it would all pass if any other way could be. He entrusted his mother to his friend. He fulfilled it all. And then he departed.

None of this is new. Not to me. Maybe not to you. My mind’s eye can only extend so far to his suffering. I cannot see him hanging in place. I cannot fit my fingers into his nail piercings. I cannot smell the blood, the sweat, the heat of the day. I cannot hear him crying out.

But yesterday I tasted for the briefest of moments the bitterness of his last moments. And it changed me in ways I cannot describe.