On the cross, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, his native tongue, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani. Many who overheard it thought he was calling out for the prophet Elijah. He was actually quoting Psalm 22 from the Hebrew Bible: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? I learned in seminary that in the Jewish tradition, when folks quote the first verse of a Psalm, they are not sound-biting, but referencing the entire chapter. The next line of Psalm 22 goes like this: Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Jesus’ higher Power was a Sabbath God who shows up in the text hearing and responding to the groans of those oppressed and impoverished by the policies of Solomon.
In Genesis, it was the blood of murdered Abel. In Exodus, it was the Israelites groaning under slavery to Pharoah. In the Psalms and Prophets, the sighs and cries consistently come before the One who hears. In James, it was the unpaid wages of the day laborers crying out. In Romans, all of creation is groaning with labor pains, longing to be released from bondage, and the text says that, in our weakness, we do not know what to say in our prayers—but the Breath of God intercedes for us with groans that go beyond our glossary.
The groan of God is the key to the conspiracy of heaven, my translation for what is often rendered “the kingdom of heaven” in the Gospels. The divine Spirit is perpetually plotting and few folks are in on this secret. God breathes through everything, but this higher Power is partial to those in pain and penetrates people of privilege with a holy groaning of solidarity. The Sabbath God sides with those who sigh in a split screen society, where half of us grow up in the sunlight of opportunity while the other America drowns in a fatigue of despair. In doing so, this One subverts the Solomons of the world. In this holy vocation, God prods us to join in on the journey. For many of us, it is a call to switch sides.
This re-narrating of higher Power is what Paul the apostle called the message of the cross. The cross in Greek is ho stauros, a curse word that was never uttered in polite, respectable company. The cross! A scandal to say it, but an even bigger scandal to see the world through it. The message in Greek is logos. The logic! The cross offers an entirely different logic to think, feel and live out of. The logic of the cross is that God is not a king orchestrating outcomes. At Calvary, this old imperial idea about divinity was crucified once and for all.
The logic of the cross is that God is not high and lifted up, but bubbles up through the cracks and corners of empire, working wonders through those the world deems weak and foolish and low and despised. The King of the Universe was buried, but rose up three days later in the bodies of vulnerable people lacking access to water, food, freedom, clothes, documentation, health and housing. God is not a chief executive consolidating a kingdom, but a sentient energy plotting a conspiracy in soup kitchens, food pantries, 12-step meetings, homeless shelters, nursing homes, Native reservations, prison cells, detention centers, border cages and beyond. God moves with the other America.
The logic of the cross is foolishness to those who are coming out sideways with Solomon’s supremacy stories and hierarchies. But for those of us who believe, the cross is salvation because it is a paradigm shift for how we see and understand God, whose will and power are never found in purity, perfection or obedience, but in weakness, wonder, reverence and mystery.
The logic of the cross inverts how we imagine higher Power. It flips the hierarchy of value upside down by viewing the world through the lens of the crucified at the very bottom, through the experience of the convicted criminals and the lowly servants and the disgusting shepherds and the unclean lepers and the illegal immigrants and the hysterical women and the naive little children. Spirit stays low and stays in love with the least and the lost, constantly composting life out of death and decay.
The logic of the cross is abolitionist in its orientation. It bursts old institutional wineskins and constructs containers and connections that can hold what is most intoxicating: intimacy, vulnerability, presence, playfulness, tenderness, trust, transparency, nurture, mutuality, mystery, wonder, awe, accountability, awareness, appreciation, curiosity, compassion, open-heartedness and emotional expressiveness.
The logic of the cross replaces martyrs and mercenaries with the merciful and the meek. It crucifies concepts like blood sacrifice, penal codes, death penalties, police and prisons. Out of this radical logic, new systems will rise up, redistributing stolen land and wealth so that the unhoused, undocumented, unemployed, uneducated, unclothed, ill and imprisoned will be released to walk in newness of life.
The logic of the cross is not “Lord I lift your name on high!” As Clarence Jordan wrote, the good news is not that Jesus died for our sins so that when we die we can go home to be with him. The good news is that Jesus has risen and has come home to be with us, bringing all his naked, hungry, thirsty, sick prisoners with him. The good news is that we can access God through the groan and experience heaven right here, right now. The good news is that there is a power that some of us sill call God. This One is laying out a love conspiracy—and we are invited to take up the cross and learn its logic.
Tommy Airey is a retired high school teacher and coach from Southern California now committed to a ministry of migration. He is a post-Evangelical pastor and the author of Descending Like a Dove: Adventures in Decolonizing Evangelical Christianity (2018).