Piss Christ: Simul Iustus et Peccator

By Joel Hess

Since it was first unveiled in 1987, the work by Andres Serrano entitled “Piss Christ”, has been met with plenty of criticism by Christian leaders. If you are not in the know, Piss Christ is what the title proclaims, a picture of a plastic crucifix in a jar of the artist’s own urine.

Though its intention was to shock or upset the majority of middle class law abiding Christians, for Lutherans proper, it should be applauded. It has blessed my mind and my confession. A prop for a children’s sermon?

St. Paul would say, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

The photo, even the act, wonderfully displays the condition of the Christian. He is simultaneously holy and unholy, saint and sinner, righteous and rotten, feces and Jesus. Those in Christ are completely saved and yet until their body is buried six feet under they are complete sinners. We cling to the promise of Christ, not the end result of our purification over time. I am what He says I am! No matter what I look like.

Yet, Simultaneous does not mean equal! Nor eternally co-existent. Oh no, morning is broken, the night is fading; and on that glorious day the saint will be revealed and the un-saint shed forever. I will see me as Jesus calls me!  I will see the one holy catholic church as Jesus calls it!

We sinner/saints can look disgusting sometimes like a crucifix drowning in urine. Christians can stink too. Especially those who mistake the doctrine of simul iustus et peccator for fatalism saying, “well, I am a sinner so whatevs.” Or when they criticize any one desiring to be a better person as a Pelagian trying to earn his own salvation.

Yet when I look at the crucifix in urine, my eyes are drawn to Jesus, not piss, and I fall in love with God all over again. The full title Serrano used is “Immersion: Piss Christ.” Surely it could also be called Incarnation. God not only immersed Himself in our piss, but our sins: touching lepers, sharing water with white trash divas, eating with traitors, hanging between two enemies of the state.

If Serrano meant to humiliate Christ, even Christianity, is it possible to humiliate our Lord more than He already has? God nailed to two boards in some obscure part of the world outdoes any modern day shock art. You can’t out humiliate God.

We are not Muslims unable to allow our heroes, prophets, and God to suffer, let alone be humiliated. They call it blasphemy; we call it salvation, grace, mercy, hope. The Good News. Piss Christ.

Jesus is always where He doesn’t belong! That’s what He does!

So put my Jesus in a jar of urine. He has been immersed in worse than a man’s piss. He has carried my excrement, my hate and murder, my lust and betrayal, my pride and foolishness.

Every time His body and blood touches my lips the religious right should be offended.

Every time a sinner is immersed in the waters of baptism, the righteous should riot!

But for now I confess to be a sinner by what I see in myself! Yet I am a Saint by what Jesus sees! The world sees excrement. God sees His Son. I can’t wait to see that one day too, and maybe even Andres Surrano smiling as the Lord descends with trumpets.