Opinion | What Good Friday and Easter Say About Black Suffering

James Cone’s important work of theology “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” connects the crucifixion of Jesus with the lynching of Black bodies: both are manifestations of evil inflicted as a means of control. Since the time of the hush harbors, Black Christians have found solace in the idea that the God they worshiped knew the trouble we’d seen. He experienced it himself. The hip-hop artist Swoope said, “Christ died in the blackest way possible, with his hands up and his momma there watching him.”

But the story of Jesus does not end with his death. In the Gospels, Jesus claimed that he had power over death. Christians believe his resurrection vindicated that claim. The body that God raised was the same body that was on the cross. After his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples recognized him. They ate and talked with him. His body was transformed and healed, no longer subject to death, but it still had the wounds from his crucifixion. There was continuity and discontinuity with the person they knew.

Jesus’ resurrection has implications not just for his body, but for all bodies subject to death. Christians believe that what God did for Jesus, he will do for us. The resurrection of Jesus is the forerunner of the resurrection of our bodies and restoration of the earth. There are endless debates and speculations about what type of bodies we will have at the resurrection. Will we all receive the six packs of our dreams? Will we revert to the bodies we had in our 20s? I do not find these questions that intriguing. What is compelling to me is the clear teaching that our ethnicities are not wiped away at the resurrection. Jesus was raised with his brown, Middle Eastern, Jewish body.

When my body is raised, it will be a Black body. One that is honored alongside bodies of every hue and color. The resurrection of Black bodies will be the definitive rejection of all forms of racism. At the end of the Christian story, I am not saved from my Blackness. It is rendered everlasting. Our bodies, liberated and transfigured but still Black, will be the eternal testimony to our worth.

The question, “What will God do about the disinherited and ripped apart bodies of the world?” can be seen as a central question of religion. Either give me a bodily resurrection or God must step aside. He is of no use to us.

The depiction of the afterlife in which we live apart from our bodies gives physical suffering the final word. If a Black body can be hung from a tree and burned, never to be restored again, what kind of victory is the survival of a soul? The mob, then, would be able to take something that even God cannot restore. If my cousin’s body can be ravaged by disease and lost to her forever, does that not render illness more powerful than God?

I am often asked what gives me hope to go on, given the evil I see in the world. I find encouragement in a set of images more powerful than the photos, videos and funerals chronicling Black death: the vision of all those Black bodies who trusted in God called back to life, free to laugh, dance and sing. Not in a disembodied spiritual state in some heavenly afterlife but in this world remade by the power of God.

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