To a cross roads tree (4)
At first glance, a reader might not think of religion when they read this line. But then, on a second read, the space between cross and roads catches your eye—isn't that one word, crossroads? The space between cross and roads is what makes this line refer to religion—Jesus' cross, specifically. Now, if Jesus weren't mentioned later in the poem, and if someone weren't being killed publicly and brutally, like Jesus was, maybe we wouldn't make this connection. But we think that "cross" is definitely talking about Jesus, not just an intersection.
(Bruised body high in air) (6)
Again, this line alludes to Jesus very subtly—or perhaps not at all. But, on our second read through, now that our imaginations have been caught by the hidden reference to the cross in line 4, we're on the watch. In fact, we're not even sure if it's her lover's body she's talking about at all in this line. Jesus, too, was bruised when he was nailed up to the cross, high on a hill.
I asked the white Lord JesusWhat was the use of prayer (7-8)
Jesus, who has been, until this point, made to seem similar to the speaker's lover, now seems totally foreign and totally useless. He's white, and our speaker and her murdered lover are black. If Jim Crow laws are so harsh that black people can't even use the same bathrooms as white people, then what's the use of a black girl praying to a white Jesus?