During Easter I usually read through the different accounts of Jesus Christ dying on the cross and the events leading up to it. I tend to notice something new every year. This time I had a thought, a kind of discovery, relating to a question I’ve had for many years: Why did Christ have to die on the cross? An almighty and all-good God could simply have removed all sins, making the crucifixion unnecessary. And it would seem quite sadistic (or even masochistic, considering the Christ is God) to let someone go through something like a crucifixion for no reason. To me, the whole ordeal of the crucifixion seems deeply meaningful, but in ways that I am only barely able to understand, let alone put into words.
However, as mentioned, this Easter, I had an idea. It relates to a quite well-known passage. The scene is Jesus being taken prisoner in the night before the crucifixion. One of Jesus’ disciples cuts of the ear of someone who wants to seize Jesus. As the passage states:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” – Matthew, 26:52–53.
From this the saying “live by the sword, die by the sword” is derived. Although “karma” isn’t a concept one typically connects with Christian thought, here it is. Someone who uses a sword to solve conflicts, will also perish in that way. But there is something more here. Jesus is addressing a disciple who wants to protect him from being captured in the night. As Jesus indicates, if the Father would have wanted to protect Jesus, he would just send legions of angels. In other words, what is going to happen, is meant to happen.
Sometimes I am puzzled by the seeming powerlessness of monastics, of monks and nuns, of Christian saints. Shouldn’t someone connected to divine power – someone who can send a legion of angels – also appear powerful? At least have armor to protect them from evil and a weapon to strike down demons? The way Jesus reacts, however, reveals an attitude that is connected with the view that karma is a reality: If you strike someone down, you will be struck down yourself. There is no need to take care of this from the outside. The divine order will see to it that things happen as they should, that justice is done. This, I think, holds true for the crucifixion as well. First of all, I don’t think the statements of dying by the sword and the possibility of the Father sending angels are unrelated. Humans live in sin (and in Christian thought, they are fundamentally sinful regardless of their acts or will continually be lead to sinful acts because of original sin). Let’s say “sin” means something like living in a way that keep you disconnected from the divine. The consequence of living or being like that is something like a crucifixion. If we live in a way that distances us from the divine, the final consequence of that is completely dying away from God. Disconnect yourself, and you will end up completely disconnected. Karma is divine law and one consequence of that is the crucifixion. Christ exemplifies what everyone has to go through. In some sense or another: Dying on the cross.
But Jesus did not live by the sword, he did not live in a way that enhanced disconnection. This is one further aspect of the mystery of Golgotha. What happens if someone takes on the consequences of someone else’s actions? The one who committed them are then freed from the consequences. And what happens to the ones who take on the consequences? They are resurrected in a higher form.
That this has been enacted once by the Christ does not necessarily mean that it is done once and for all. As Angelus Silesius, the Christian mystic, put it:
Wird Christus tausendmal zu Bethlehem geboren
Und nicht in dir, du bleibst noch ewiglich verloren.
Das Kreuz zu Golgatha kann dich nicht von dem Bösen,
Wo es nicht auch in dir wird aufgericht, erlösen.*
Voluntarily suffering the ultimate consequences of one’s own disconnected ways of being may be called the internal Christ process. When someone voluntarily suffers the consequences of someone else’s disconnected way being, this is a social Christ process. The end of these karmic processes – one may hope – there is a resurrection and a higher form of experience.
Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born,
If He’s not born in thee
Thy soul is still forlorn.
The Cross on Golgotha,
Will never save thy soul;
The Cross in thine own heart,
Alone can make thee whole.