“Seven cities warred for Homer being dead
Who living had no roof to shroud his head.”
– Thomas Heywood
It has been said that a suburb is a place where developers name the streets after the trees they cut down to build. That description may be too harsh for suburbs, but it is fairly accurate description of some religion. Jesus said that the religious people of his day built memorials to the same prophets their forebears wanted to kill. In other words, nothing is easier than loving a dead prophet and nothing harder than honoring the living spirit of prophecy.
Most religious leaders have a kind of mummification process whereby the radical teachings of the prophets are reprocessed so as not to challenge their own status and comfort. Radical social reformers are recast as isolated individuals who merely made predictions about the future. Plush hospitals are named after penniless saints. Radicals like St. Francis are turned into statues that stand wordlessly in our gardens. Uncomfortable calls to fairness like Martin Luther King gave, are turned into mere pleas to be nice. This all happens so that the mummy of the prophet might be serviceable to hierarchy of the culture.
So when we come to church to praise Jesus, it is most often not the radical prophet of love we honor, but his mummy. In most churches, Jesus’ call to justice has been removed along with his small intestines. We know a living Jesus would call us to deconstruct the rich edifices we have built, and to use our wealth to serve the poor. We know a living Jesus would strip the terms of status from our clergy and tell them to take the lowest place. We know a living Jesus would confront the arrogant moralism we use to judge others. We know a living Jesus would send us out into the world with a message of love and justice for all people.
So we gather at the cross. We know the Jesus there will be safely dead.