“It took Jesus a thousand years to die.” say Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in their fascinating book Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. Brock and Parker travelled the Mediterranean looking for early Christian art that depicted the crucifixion, instead they found wonderful images of healing, restoration and resurrection in a garden of incredible beauty. If the cross was portrayed it was always with Jesus in front of it welcoming the repentant and reconciled. For early Christians baptism was seen as an entry into paradise “Through this ritual Christians gained entrance into the garden of God, which stood beyond the open doors of every church.” (p115)
The authors contend that images of Christ on the cross as the central focus of Christian faith grew out of the sanctioning of war and violence as a holy pursuit. The earliest images of Christ on the cross that they found appeared in the 10th century in northern Europe and proliferated throughout the Middle Ages. What brought about this change? Brock and Parker believe that it was Charlemagne who began the trend as he spread Christianity by war and violence, subduing the Saxons and forcing them to become Christians. In fact it was in these Saxon churches that the earliest images of crucifixion are found.
I am finding much to think about in this provocative book which I suppose reinforces for me the fact that God’s grand plan is not war and violence and some end times cataclysm but rather a renewal of the earth and all its creatures and the restoration of the abundance, mutual concern and love of God’s original creation. I would highly recommend this book to all those who are searching for a life affirming image of the future of God and who desire to follow a Christ who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life. and invites us to join him in making life flourish in all dimensions of wholeness and shalom.