The mystery of the cross and the banality of evil
The Cross is the Mysterium Tremendum of all theology — a symbol of grace and redemption in dark times.
At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Christ prayed and agonised that the heavy cup would bypass Him. He carried His own Cross through the Via Dolorosa up to Golgotha, the place of bones.
He was mocked, beaten and spat upon. They placed a crown of thorns upon His head. He hanged naked between two condemned robbers. Then as now, nothing could be more shameful than to die on a tree, the scorn of the whole earth. Lots were cast upon His meagre clothes. Except for His mother and the women, all his friends deserted Him.
Even Apostle Peter denied ever knowing Him. Oh, the loneliness of the Cross!
The koboko with which He was flayed had blades and nails on it, for maximum effect. Every lash drew blood and exerted the most excruciating pain. A Roman soldier pierced His side with a sword, drawing blood and water. The Prince of Peace never carried a sword in all His 33 years.
When Peter chopped off the ear of the Roman soldier, He urged him to sheath his sword. Picking up the fallen ear, he miraculously fixed it back. Some 39 stripes or wounds were inflicted upon the Lamb of God. Incidentally, medical science confirms that all the diseases of the world can be classified into 39 types.
He gave up the ghost with these last words: “It is finished”. His destiny and life-purpose had been fulfilled. The sun became dark. The curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn in two. Fear gripped the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the religious council and one of His secret disciples, gave up his own tomb for His burial. Frankincense, alabaster and myrrh were used to anoint the body of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
At dawn, the disconsolate women were startled to find an empty tomb. An angel lifted the stone and sat on it. He that was dead is alive forevermore, the man in shiny apparel declared. The women were instructed to go back to Jerusalem and inform the faithful about the good news of the Risen Lord. Thousands saw Him and touched Him. He spoke to them and comforted them. Even Josephus, a Roman pagan historian, testifies to the palaver of the Resurrection.
According to Christian mystical theology, during the three days of His death, Rabboni went into hell and took captivity captive. He took the keys to the gates of hell from Lucifer. What was meant to be defeat and shame was transfigured into triumphant victory.
The blood and water that fell from the Cross washes away all the sins of the world. He bought our souls with His precious blood. To those who believe, He has given power to become the sons of God. Death holds no more terrors for us.
For me to live is Christ and to die is again, says Paul the Apostle. All power and authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him. And by His stripes we are healed.
There were, of course, many doubters.
Thomas did not believe until he had seen and touched His wounded hands and the scar on His precious side. There are some who insist that He did not die – that someone had been substituted for Him and He was taken away.
Others spread the evil heresy that He got married to Mary Magdalene and fled to India or some other outlandish outpost.
One thing that scientific history establishes for a fact is that His disciples waxed stronger in faith after His death on the conviction that they had seen and touched the Risen Lord.
While some were simple fishermen and artisans, others were highly learned intellectuals. Luke was a trained historian.
Matthew was a civil servant and tax-collector. Paul, who had persecuted His disciples and later met Him on the road to Damascus, was a rabbinical intellectual and philosopher. They were no fools. It is inconceivable that they would have staked their very lives on a 419 lie.
They paid dearly for their faith. Peter was crucified upside down. Matthew was impaled with a sword in Ethiopia. Luke was hanged in Greece. James was thrown from a cliff in Jerusalem. When they discovered he did not die they finished him off with a club. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Rome. Philip was crucified upside down also in Rome. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, was shot with arrows. Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was flayed to death in Armenia. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. Thomas was stabbed to death in India. Jude was impaled with arrows while preaching in Persia. Mathias was stoned and then beheaded in Jerusalem. Paul was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded by Emperor Nero in Rome.
Some mystery surrounds the Apostle John.
Legend has it that he was thrown into a barrel of boiling oil but he escaped miraculously. He was later exiled to the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelations. He was perhaps the only apostle to have died of natural causes.
If the holy apostles preferred martyrdom to denying their faith, you must grant it to them that they would not have staked their very lives in the service of a lie.
If He did not rise from the grave, then we would be, of all men, the most to be pitied.
Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem more than two thousand years ago. But in Nigeria He is being crucified a second time.
To be a Christian is to take on the form of Christ in the real world. The church is the Body of Christ in the world today. For decades now, this Body has been facing one form of persecution or the other in Nigeria. At first, it was in subtle form. But now the devil has bared his bloodthirsty fangs for all to see.
During the last decade more than 2,000 churches have been destroyed and more than 400 clergy killed in the north east alone.
In the past year alone, 10 catholic priests have been killed by herdsmen militias in Enugu State. The latest victim is Father Paul Offu, who was killed on Thursday 1st August. Last week five pastors belonging to the Redeemed Church were abducted by kidnappers along the Sagamu-Benin-Ore road on their way to a church conference in Mowe, Ogun State.
According to an American analyst, Casey Hough, between January and February this year alone, some 250 Christians were murdered in Nigeria. According to Open Doors, an international NGO that documents persecution of Christians throughout the world, some 6,000 Christians were killed during the first half of 2018. Such killings often lead to thousands of fleeing refugees, adding to the bourgeoning millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that we have all over our benighted country.
What is even more troubling is the silence of many of the prominent leaders of the North and the indifference of so many people whose voice could have made a difference. For example, when a Coptic Church was attacked during. Christmas Eve of 2010 in the ancient city of Alexandria in Egypt, Muslims and Christians came out in droves to say No to such sacrilege. In Nigeria, few voices have ever been raised in clear and forceful terms. It is a great pity that many people in Nigeria have sold their conscience to the devil.
The German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt could not find a better term to describe the Jewish holocaust than the phrase, “the banality of evil”.
There is nothing more banal and more evil than to target innocent priests and worshippers attending mass at dawn and you mow them down. You find a pregnant mother and her children in a village and you bring them under the sword. You meet innocent travellers on the highway and you open fire on them at point-blank range. People who do such things are not only shameless cowards; they are strangers to both God and humanity.
Their aim is to brutalise society and to create an atmosphere of fear. Fear in turn will generate bitter hatred. Bitter hatred bottled over a long period, will, sooner or later, explode into violence and war. What is certain is that the blood of the holy martyrs will only strengthen the church and will bring the kind of Upper Room experience that will set the world on holy fire.
True Christians will never hate their Muslim brethren. Where there is hatred we shall preach love; and where there is pain, we shall bring the healing Balm of Gilead. We are the salt of the earth. Without us, Nigeria will not exist.