Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jesus the disabled: The Easter sermon you won’t be hearing

For the Christian world, this is Easter Sunday, when Jesus (if you want to look at it technically) rose from the dead as Zombie Leader to raise his zombie army, people who, if they ate human flesh (specifically his!), were promised to one day rise from the dead too (I think many churches might call these other names like: The Eucharist, Resurrection, etc). And while I did ask at the video store why they weren’t doing a display for Zombie Sunday, I did not write this post to intentionally offend the 1 billion Christians (who often display a lack of humor regarding exact wording).

No, I wrote this post to point out this, that this holiday, or holy days for the Christians celebrate the act which gave humanity hope: That God in the end, embraced any limitation to reconcile with a rather tetchy and rebellious species…humans. What they don’t emphasis or embrace is that this greatest of all divine accomplishments was done by a person with a disability. Yes, Jesus was disabled, in all aspects of that word.

This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t able bodied before, but then so was I. And it is not to say that Jesus was not made disabled by other humans; which I am sure the tens of thousands of soldiers coming home also can relate to. What interested me, and kept me thinking was that when the three went out that morning to go to Golgotha, only one was so physically disabled so as to REQUIRE assistance from Simon a Cyrenian (Luke 23:26 if it interests you). Now I grew up, well, a type of Christian, I still am, a Christian (a different type), and I knew the “Passion” (ick!) or Crucifixion story backwards and forwards. But until I became myself, DISabled: literally unable to do things without assistance, did I ask myself: Why? Why did Jesus, between standing solemn before the Roman representative and forgiving the people who were crucifying him WHILE they were doing it, need help? I mean, this was supposed to be Jesus, who was God-on-earth’s big moment right? So why, does a person who says he could call a host of angels, NEED help. In fact, need help so badly that if Simon wasn’t there, there would be no big crucifixion scene: because Jesus was disabled.

Now there are a lot of religions but I have to wonder how many of them have a PWD doing the “big act” that the corporate religion is based around? Because that is what Jesus was, a person with disabilities, limitations, needing able-bodied help to do the job, which according to Christians, was saving humanity. A lot happening because of Simon; because an able bodied person and a person with a disability worked together, to save humanity? Now we can say Simon carrying the cross was unintentional, except aren’t Christians the ones who always go on that EVERYTHING Jesus did was intentional, that as GOD, Jesus reeked of intentional. Then that means Jesus WANTED to be, for however short a time, a person with a disability (in fact, if you look at John 20:14-16, Jesus ROSE as a person of disability too – since those are the people given the jobs to tend the graves in that time period – and the reason Mary did not recognize him).

See, that’s the part I keep going over in my head. That Jesus and God had made this agreement on how things would go, and at some point, the Divine decision was that Jesus would not only need God, but would need the assistance of other humans too. That Jesus would, in his, I think we call it “final stages” require a caregiver named Simon. That Jesus knew what it meant to remember what it was like to be able bodied and no longer be that, and to know that wasn’t what mattered. See, didn’t matter. The world was/is saved, by a Jesus the disabled, and while no one is going to go up there on Easter Sunday and preach that sermon, because we live in a world where people with disabilities aren’t seen as truly equal. Of course, Jesus was also a criminal (ex-con) and a labeled traitor by his own population, which also isn’t going to be preached. Because it turns out that 2000 odd years later people who are picked up police are still “probably guilty of something” and “there is free speech and then being a traitor to your people”. And (insert a snorting laugh here), disabled people don’t go around saving the world; they should “consider themselves fortunate” to be in a society which gives them access. Which reminds me, I wonder, how many of those churches tomorrow around the world will have full access, you know, the kind of access JESUS on the way to Calvary would have needed?

I never understood why over the years the church leaders always skipped over parts of the final time of the crucifixion. It was always the long speeches instead of “I thirst!” and waiting while someone brought a drink. Or “Why, why have your forsaken me?” Because these are statements that someone who is dependent, limited, a person of disability makes. Does the idea of Jesus accepting being a PWD and it making not a bit of difference, seem offensive?

Just remember Sunday, if you are an Christian, or even an Easter Christian that it was Jesus the disabled, Jesus who needed caregiving, Jesus who needed Simon to carry the cross upon which he was going to bridge the gap between the human and the divine. The state of the body and who Jesus was did not change for Jesus, did not change for God, and yet, that is not the sermon people will be hearing tomorrow: That Jesus and caregiver (Simon, the most famous caregiver in history!) were enough to get what needed to be done. And so God, in this Christian act of supreme divinity, needed a hand. And did not consider it to lessen the act.

See, that is FAR more radical than the zombies, isn’t it? And sadly, it is all true. The one group which SHOULD be speaking on Easter Sunday, who should be up in front to explain the emotions, the struggles internally, the feeling of dependency, of learning to accept assistance in common needs, of learning to leave the able bodied self behind, are PWD’s. Jesus was disabled. Why do they forget that?


cheryl g. said...

Hmmm, I had never thought of the passion in those terms before but it makes a lot of sense.

Anonymous said...

This is why I love you. If I had heard sermons like that I might have actually taken that first communion.

em, of bloodmysteries, commenting on a handheld device.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Cheryl: Well, I've been thinking and thinkin' (you know how I can think) and this is as far as I got on it.

Em: Yes, well, odd how the church doesn't really embrace ex-convict's to speak about Christ's experience either

This is my sort of annual: Okay, I'm going to accidentally offend most of my readers post because

1) Did many christians get past the first paragraph? Probably not?

2) Are they pleased with the rest? Again, probably not.

3) Are there lots of people going, "Oh no! You're a CHRISTIAN! Those are the people abused me, abused people in history..." - hey corporate christianity did I number on me too!

4) the WTF? Yesterday is it wanting to post pictures of your vagina post-waxing and today is a BIBLE sermon?

Dave Hingsburger said...

Another one knocked way out of the park Elizabeth. I've gotten behind on my blog reading and came here early this morning to catch up on the last few weeks. This is the first I've read, I want to shout 'Amen, Sister, Amen' ... 'Take It Home To Jesus, Take it Home' ... I'm wondering if you ever read the book 'the disabled God'

Yoga Korunta said...

Happy Egg & Candy Day!

FridaWrites said...

LOL re. #4.

I loved this post--I was invited to go to my parents' church today but have too much pain/too tired. This was lovely to read and a keeper--thanks for writing it.

Marla said...

You crack me up. So creative! I love it. I hope you are having a great day and feeling well, feeling hopeful. I am trying hard to think that M is on the up and up. But, she has that "look". I am waiting. Praying that she gets the energy back she had yesterday.

Love ya! Happy Easter Eliz and Linda!!

Lene Andersen said...

You blow my mind.

Much food for thought there.

em said...

Well yeah. My first reaction is always, "you're a Christian? Oh no!" But I actually know several Christians who have helped me to look at it differently.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Dave: Thanks, I haven't read the disabled God, but I should, so now I'm behind on my reading, I did The lesbian God, which was fun, well, up till the part where the author suggested we all meet in the forest and be in tune with the earth and I'm like, "Its cold out there." - sorry, I need a lot of convincing that God wants us extremely uncomfortable just to commune.

Yoga: Happy egg day to you too - I am off to find my jelly bean easter eggs, which they only sell this time o year.

Frida: Worry not, irreverent programming will continue in the near future. Thanks, I will join you on the to tired to go and too far to go front.

Marla: Creative. Um, okay, I take that as a compliment. I hope maizie's bad days are over as well, happy zombie day!

Lene: Well, Zombie Jesus does have a thirsting for our brains and hearts (always going on about it!).

Em: yeah, me too, which is why I am openly lesbian but a closet Christian, since even the christians don't really like to stand next to me.

Dawn Allenbach said...

Yeah, lots of Christians would be pissed by that (I'm thinking of the majority of people in my parents' church), but I thought it was insightful. I don't know the Bible well enough to pick up on that.

You should develop that idea for a paper and submit it. Or maybe just disability among the Divine orders in general and use that as an illustrative example. Hephaestus could go in there, too -- the lame and ugly Greek god who built himself a wheeled chair in order to forge beautiful armor for the "pretty" gods, whose wife Aphrodite at first refused to marry him because he was ugly and lame and later cheated on him when she was made to marry him.

Neil said...

And here I thought the real meaning of Ester was that Jesus comes out of his cave, and if he sees his shadow, it means we'll have six more weeks of hockey.

Sacrilege? Yes, but it was told to me by a church organist. So there.

Se shall be celebrating disabled zombies everywhere with a feast. Family are about to attend, thus I must abandon the 'net.

Cheers to both of you, and try not to think of rabbits laying eggs!

Raccoon said...

You can really throw some mind twisters, can't you?

First was Superman being selfish, now it's Jesus as a gimp...

I'm still not going to convert! (But did you see that a Muslim in Italy did?)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Dawn: Yeah, well, it isn't the conventional teaching but I assure, it is all there in the bible, you know the thing the people who call themselves "Followers of Christ" might want to check up on.

I did think that Hephaestus always got a raw deal but then Aphrodite was not exactly the most emotional mature person (she DID start the Trojan War over vanity and jealosy), what about the Romanized version, Vulcan, the one armed God, although in the huge statue in Birmingham Alabama - he has two arms, as he does in some/many roman representations.

Neil: Here in Canada, everything eventually comes down to hockey, which is why we sold all our teams to places like Arizona and other desert states to keep them safe.

Have a nice family day, and since I assume you get along with your family, that isn't actually a curse.

Michael/Raccoon: Hey, I just call it as I see it - if Superman is going to go around sighing and complaining, maybe he should find a job he LIKES. And Jesus was; the only reason anyone would find that offensive is if the idea that someone physically disabled is somehow less that someone else. I mean, God was slumming as a human, does it really matter whether he had a big nose, a limp, needed assistance, or had a real big boil on his cheek....with hairs coming out of it? (errr.....happy easter?)

Actually having been in Italy with the the pressure to convert, I'm kinda sorry for any muslim there - what did he convert to?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Raccoon - If he REALLY wanted to piss people in Italy off, he should have converted to Anglicanism!

sly civilian said...

very moving...

a friend sent me a quote a few years back, i have no idea where from...

it was something along the lines of what it might mean to walk with crucified feet.

i think it was an explicit commentary on disability identity, but i'm simply failing to remember more.

beautiful post...

Raccoon said...

Well, I'm pretty sure that he wasn't Anglo-Saxon, anyway.

Yes, the now ex-Muslim and was baptized by the Pope.

yanub said...

That was a great sermon, Elizabeth. It's only by being willing to shirk the conventional notions of religion that anyone ever seems to make any real religious sense.

donimo said...

Great post - very interesting and thought provoking. I am not a Christian, but I have heard sermons (on TV and radio), where the preacher did talk about Christ's suffering, how he needed people and how this points to our very inter-connectedness/ inter/dependence in our suffering and how this life involves a lot of struggle and suffering. I don't really see the Christ figure as having a disability; I see him as suffering and dying. I know many people with disabilities who are very independent and who do not suffer. I'm not one who sticks solely to the social model of disability and believes that once all societal barriers are removed we will no longer have disabilities. I do see that all humans need one another and some folks need more assistance than others. But when one needs assistance, one doesn't necessarily have a disability. I see Christ's state of affairs before and during the crucifixion as quite transient and not at all akin to having a (permanent) disability.

Ah, it's late and I'm rambling. What I am trying to say is that the identity, the social notion, the label of "having a disability" or being "a person with a disability" is not the same as experiencing a temporary event that is in some way disabling.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Yanub: Yes, well this interpretation is slightly personal.

Donimo: I agree with you, that he was transient and maybe NOT permanently disabled, but I still think it is more than just "suffering" - I guess for me because I am ill, I identify more with the unstable nature of disability. While remissions and such aren't really part of my felt understanding (I "know" about them, I just don't have them).

I also wasn't trying to imply that all people with disabilities suffer, and I hope I didn't say that or have it come through; I just found a lot of my experiences were reflected in this albiet brief time (though Paul for example was stricken with a long term disability: since his letters often break off into rants about how no one visits him anymore and no one is here to care for him except (usually Timothy) - so there is that voice as well. It is just, in an ablist world, where in the movies the hero always has the "strength to go on" - here, the hero didn't. Here, the hero needed help. And yet was still the hero.

I agree, with the last part, which I have brought up to Vaughan many times, since I have to change my identity frequently. How long does it take to sink in, how many levels are there? I don't know.

I believe in the usefulness of the social model but I believe, that much like 100 years ago, they did not have the linquistics much less the comprehension to discuss, Woman as business leaders for example, I think the terms, the creation of a society in which people with disabilities AND illness or suffering have worth and a language and social context is still in the future. For example, MSN has a "pet health section" but no "disability" section.

Anonymous said...

:| I found your vocabulary on the subject much better! Especially because on Easter I sent my friends a little note saying "Happy Jesus, King of the Zombies Day"
:D I don't think they thought it was funny sadly...
- Cat (AKA Neil's coworker who is a twit and forgot to leave her name last time :D)

saraarts said...

This is an awesome piece of writing. I was raised Jewish, so I have no experience of Easter in a church, so I find observations such as that preachers gloss over this aspect of the story very interesting indeed.

Also, "Zombie Leader"? Cheeses, how I love your mind!