The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Brian Zahnd’s brand new memoir Water To Wine. Brian has been gracious enough to let me share portions from each chapter over the next couple months. BZ’s journey resonates with me greatly, not least because I’ve also been caught up in a water-to-wine story. This excerpt expresses more of that journey – which begins at the cross.
Seen in the light of the Easter dawn, the cross is revealed to be the lost Tree of Life.
In the middle of a world dominated by death, the Tree of Life is rediscovered in the form of a Roman cross. The cross is the act of radical forgiveness that gives sin, violence, and retribution a place to die in the body of Jesus. The world that was born when Adam and Eve in their shame began to blame, the world where violent Cain killed innocent Abel, the world of pride and power that tramples the meek and weak—at the cross that world sinned its sins into Jesus Christ. And what happens? Jesus forgives. Why? Because God is like that. In the defining moment of the cross Jesus defines what God is really like. God is love—co-suffering, all-forgiving, sin-absorbing, never-ending love. God is not like Caiaphas sacrificing a scapegoat. God is not like Pilate enacting justice by violence. God is like Jesus, absorbing and forgiving sin.
At the cross a world of sin is absorbed by the love of God and recycled into grace and mercy. This is what the cross is about! This is what Christianity reveals. Christianity is not about success-in-life sermons where we learn to be “winners” in the competitive game of life.
Life is not a game, life is a gift. Life is not about competition, life is about love. Life is not about winning the game, getting to the top, coming in first—that’s the old world of Cain and Pharaoh and Caesar. The world of cold-blooded competition is the world that kills Christ. In his defining moment Jesus shames the way of Cain, Pharaoh, and Caesar. At the cross Jesus reveals that life is about learning to love, even if you have to die to do it, because you know that beyond death is the love of the Father and resurrection of the dead. This is the cross. This is Christianity.This was not the Christianity I had known in its word-of-faith, religious-right, success-in-life aberrations. Meditation on the cross pointed me to something deeper, richer, fuller, and infinitely more costly. Deep contemplation on the cross became a form of shock therapy—a radical reorientation that revealed how disturbingly distorted much of Americanized Christianity has become. The cross of Christ poses a serious challenge to the popular consumer Christianity dominant in North America—easy-cheesy-cotton-candy-Christianity. After 2004, I was through being a hawker of a cotton candy gospel offered at the three-ring circus of an entertainment-oriented Christianity. No more sickly sweet spun sugar. Now it would be flesh and blood!
In the bread and wine of the Eucharist Jesus calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood—cotton candy doesn’t belong on the altar.
But our spiritual “sugar addiction” is not easy to break.
[Get Water To Wine on Amazon or wherever books are sold.]
Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is also the author of several books, including A Farewell To Mars and Beauty Will Save the World, and the brand new memoir Water To Wine. Follow him on Facebook & Twitter.