Reading A Course in Miracles: The Message of the Crucifixion

I love this section of A Course in Miracles. It’s pretty substantial, compared to other sections which are about half its length. And it addresses two issues that are dear to my heart. First, we get a continuing – and continually helpful – revision of the crucifixion, that pivotal event in Christian theology. And second, our understanding of just who the author is deepens. This is one of most personable sections of all the books, just about as close to sharing tea with the historical Jesus as I can imagine.

First, the crucifixion. As the section notes, we’ve encountered it twice before. First in the introduction to chapter four where we were told it was the “last useless journey” we need take and then in Atonement without Sacrifice in chapter three where we learn the lovely and important concept that Jesus was not punished because we were bad (T-3.I.2:10). But those are largely negative definitions – telling us what the crucifixion is not. Now Jesus aims at a positive, or benign, understanding, one that supplements what we have learned to date.

And it’s actually quite simple. The crucifixion is an extreme example of the fact that a Child of God cannot be attacked. Bodies can be assaulted, torn and even killed, but since we are not our bodies, why lose any sleep over the ills that befall them? Jesus goes so far to say that we absolutely have to understand this. If we don’t, forward progress to Love of any kind is impossible.

The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot be persecuted. If you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible, and are therefore regarding yourself insanely (T-6.I.4:6-7).

We cannot die. The body can and will die, but not us. If that statement does not make perfect sense – if we cannot accept it calmly and without effort – then we are still identifying with the body. And to that extent, we are holding ourselves apart from the teaching example of Jesus.

When we accept our bodies as real – even infrequently, even to a slight degree – we are admitting the possibility of attack. We are allowing for the possibility of justified anger. We cannot do this and have the peace of Heaven.

There can be no justification for the unjustifiable. Do not believe there is, and do not teach that there is (T-6.I.6:8-9).

Really, we are being asked here to revisit – and reaffirm our commitment to – the course Introduction:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

If we can believe that, then we will teach that, and we will be at peace because we will be home with God.

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I mentioned earlier that a lot of what is intriguing about this section is the degree to which Jesus is actually talking about his earthly experience. The question of who wrote the Course is a thorny one. Was it the historical Jesus? The abstract Love and Wisdom of Jesus channeled through Helen Schucman? Somebody – or something – else entirely (after all, there are frequent “we”‘s where “I” would make more sense)?

I steer clear of these debates because a) I don’t think you need to take a stand on that question to benefit from studying the Course and b) I absolutely don’t believe that Jesus is the only way, truth or light. I believe that we are called to develop a personal relationship with our savior, the terms and conditions – and the identification – of which need not be disclosed and need not be identical or even similar to the choices of others.

But this section makes a pretty good case for the historical Jesus! In a text that is relatively free of specifics, this section abounds in them. We learn about the apostles – how Jesus really appreciated their devotion but also recognized they were a little thick when it came to grasping his teachings. They really did sleep in at the garden while he prayed. They made up that bit about not coming to bring peace but a sword – lines the Course Jesus specifically disavows. They got the bit about Judas wrong – he was another brother beloved of Jesus who, since Jesus didn’t believe in betrayal, isn’t the big sinner we all tend to see him as. And that’s not to mention all the references to the historical crucifixion.

What’s the point? I guess simply to pay attention. To notice the specificity. To notice that Jesus assumes (T-6.I.16:1) that we are reading the New Testament in addition to the course. To realize that a connection is being drawn – even as it is radically differentiated – between Jesus of Nazareth and the author of the course. You can take it or leave it of course – really, you can – but Jesus is both identifying as the man who lived and died some two millenia ago, as well as a real and active presence in our lives today.

Personally, I find that comforting. I say that carefully: I have no desire to jam Jesus into anybody’s belief system. I merely witness to my own experience – which is to say that I am often guided by a presence, an intelligence that is kinder, wiser and more loving than “I” am, and that I am continually challenged and inspired by considering the historical Jesus as a model for thinking and thus acting.

In the end, this section really calls on me to deepen my acceptance of Jesus as savior. He asks me to see his life and death in the same way he did – as proof that a child of God cannot be killed, despite what the ego judges and despite what is done to the body. And he asks me to be his disciple – one who is committed to changing the way I think in order to wake up and to do what I can to help others do the same. That is the path I am on. Few sections make it so clear or so filled with love.

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