Beyond a sweet and sticky Jesus

Jonathan Bartley
By Jonathan Bartley
14 Apr 2007

Nudity and chocolate aren't often the stuff of Christian stories. But one of the big media headlines over Easter concerned galleries in the USA displaying a six foot milk chocolate statue of Jesus, created to be correct in every anatomical detail.

Entitled "My Sweet Lord" the naked confectionary Christ was due to be unveiled in a New York venue at Easter weekend. But Cosimo Cavallaro's depiction of a crucifixion pose upset some Christians so much, the exhibition was cancelled. The combination of chocolate and nakedness was branded offensive.

Most crosses on display in churches this Sunday will be more modest. They will feature a strategically placed loincloth. But the Roman custom was to crucify criminals naked. The soldiers at the foot of the cross divided Jesus' clothing between them before he died, according to the Biblical account.

As the sweet statue might imply, the heart of the Christian message has become palatable. It is about chocolate rather than challenge.

But the story of Holy Week, which we have just marked, is offensive. Much of its power lies in Jesus' vulnerability and humiliation. And it wasn't only Jesus who was exposed. In the brutality of the crucifixion, the injustice of the political leaders who put him to death was also laid bare. St Paul suggested that Jesus made a spectacle of them.

Other images have recently performed a similar task. The photos of the abuse of detainees in Iraq highlighted the brutality of some US soldiers. The pictures of opposition leaders in Zimbabwe who were assaulted in police custody, portrayed powerfully the oppression of Mugabe's regime.

The oppressor of course is keen to clean such images up. And just three hundred years after Jesus' death, Christians were also tempted to do so. The Roman Emperor Constantine brought Christianity to the heart of the Empire. The unjust enemy that Jesus exposed on the cross was suddenly a best friend.

It wasn't long before the cross became a symbol of righteous crusade. Christians had to take part in the slavery, war and inequality of the Empire, and soon found justifications for it. Covering up the scandal of the cross runs the risk of legitimising injustice.

On the night of his betrayal Jesus gathered his disciples for a last meal. It wasn't chocolate, but using the bread before him as an illustration of his own body, Jesus urged them to eat. "This is my body broken for you" he said. It was an invitation to both remember and embrace the story of the death that was to come.

What would Jesus make of his representation in 200 pounds of chocolate? I suspect his main concern would be that the image was honest - and that the chocolate was fair trade.

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With acknowledgements to the BBC. A version of this article was originally delivered as a Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today programme.

For Fair trade chocolate go to: http://ethicalshop.at/Ekklesia

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