One Victim, One Trauma, One Violent Death
What is it about modern American society that is so dispiriting to people? Even at home, there are great stresses that contribute to a person's isolation even when he is surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors. For most modern Americans, a close-knit family, intimate friendships, and social unity are ideals more than they are a present tense reality. If anything can be said about modern American society it's that it's antihuman. The results are apparent, as anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz said: "We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: our children, our spouse, maybe our parents. Our society is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that."
One reason is that trauma, violence, and death have mostly been eliminated from public life. Anyone who does struggle, who is actually afflicted, is viewed as an exception. He is labeled as a victim. He is told how to feel about his victimization, how to view himself, how to speak about himself as a victim. He is now exceptional. Unfortunately, his status as a victim then eclipses any sober understanding of the trauma and violence that occurred to him. Afterward, at the appropriate time (which is also determined for him by others), he is advised to "move on with life," "get over it," "let go and let God," and a baker's dozen of other trite, meaningless platitudes.
This means that the Christian Church is one of the last refuges in modern American society where people who have perpetrated or suffered trauma and violence can gather together to receive the truth about themselves. The historical, concrete, real suffering and death of Jesus exposes all of us as frauds and errorists. We stand in the shadow of Golgotha, self-reporting imagined, exaggerated, and specific wrongs done to us only to be met with the still, small voice of the Christ who says, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they are doing."
What are we supposed to do with this information? Is there a shared meaning Christians can take from the blood-choked absolution of the Lamb of God? Or, do Jesus' words from the cross place us in proper relation, for maybe the first time in our life, to God and our neighbor?
In relation to Christ Jesus there is one victim, one trauma, one violent death—all done in public view, remember, by a small group of religious people hell-bent on eliminating Jesus from public life for the sake of respectability and good order—and that is the Savior Himself. Yet, Jesus allowed the betrayal, torture, and execution to occur. He took responsibility for the perpetrators and victims of His work by claiming that, ultimately, it was all His choice, not ours.
The Church as body of Christ is full of victims and perpetrators. People who identify themselves according to the trauma, violence, and death that they have inflicted, or that has touched them. People isolated, alienated from family, friends, and neighbors, who struggle to see themselves as necessary, as someone who can contribute something of value to society. But, the Church as body of Christ, because she refuses to classify herself as hierarchical and alienating, confesses in word and works that she is one body, where "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). In this confession, that the Church is the body of Christ, victims, trauma, and death are drawn to, and assumed by, the crucified God.
Christ Jesus tears down the dividing wall between victims and perpetrators, and instead declares, "It is finished." All are united in Christ. Now, every person we meet is identified by us as a creature of God. As Luther's Catechism teaches: "I believe that God has created me together with all that exists." Also, family, friends, and neighbors are men and women for whom Jesus Christ died. Jesus' bloody suffering and death translates the "me" of fallen humanity into the "we" of the congregation of saints.
Now, in the Church and in our vocations, we are not only in unity with people everywhere, bonded by the trauma and violence of Jesus' one time for all time sin-sacrifice, we are at the same time united in Christ with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Modern American society is antihuman. The Church of Christ, on the other hand, is the one place where people can locate the true human being, the second Adam, the Savior Jesus. In Christ our full humanity is imputed to us by the Holy Spirit through simple earthly words, water, bread, and wine. All our trauma and violence is properly identified as Christ suffering in us, while His Spirit struggles and yearns like a woman in labor until "Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19).
One way to evaluate the health of the Church then might be to look at how much of her focus is on the body of Christ (on the altar) and the body of Christ (the Church) gathered around her God and Lord. Not the me-ness of the individual kneeling before his Savior, alienated, cold, and mystified, but the we-ness of the holy Christian Church where all together are welcomed home to the Father having been reconciled by Christ Jesus through His blood, today and always.