In Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” there’s a scene in which Jesus and his buddy Judas happen upon a crowd that has gathered around a woman and they were preparing to stone her to death. The woman, Mary Magdalene, is portrayed as a prostitute. That said, it’s not her profession that she’s been sentenced to die for, it’s for practicing her profession with Roman soldiers AND on the sabbath, if the previous was not bad enough.
In an arresting move, Jesus takes the stones and hands them to Zebedee and says, “go ahead...kill her...” and in the next breath, “but you best be sure that you, yourself are innocent of all sin...” Zebedee drops the stones and, with the others, leaves the scene, leaving Jesus, Judas, and one very terrified Mary behind.
On February 28th, a teen-age boy, visiting his father, walked through the gated community in which his father resides in and was gunned down for carrying skittles and a bottle of iced tea, only guilty of carrying sugary foods which will lead to cavities and bad health.
On March 25, Cindy, a Korean born American, was headed to a wedding. During a routine traffic stop she was detained in Eloy, Arizona, for not carrying the proper papers with her.
After being found guilty of treason, an Arab man, was forced to walk a humiliating walk through the city streets of East Jerusalem, while carrying the mechanism that would lead to his death. His hands staked, first the right and then the left, his feet bound and staked. Through this all, his mother, the woman who gave him life, looking on.
The name which we have given today is quite paradoxical. Good Friday. The name conjures up thoughts of parties, celebrations, festivals. Celebrating goodness. Yet, we remember the heinous murder of our saviour, Jesus Christ. We remember the sentencing, the shameful journey from the court through the winding streets lined with loud vendors to Golgatha. We remember the nailing, one hand and then the other, to each side of the cross, and we remember his prayers for us, “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” “Into thy hands I commend my Spirit.”
Good Friday is the paradox of our Christian faith. We, on the one hand, join the centuries of mourners that have gone before us, join us now, and will join us in generations to come in remembering the brutal murder of our savior. We remember vividly the stories and live into the reality that God’s only son, our savior, was tried, sentenced to death, humiliated as he walked through the streets of Jerusalem, and died a death that no one should ever have to die on top of a hill, called ‘Skull Hill.” On the other hand we remember the outcome. We know that what humanity intended for evil, God used for good. We are reminded that, despite our sinful nature, in God’s actions in the resurrection, we are redeemed and forgiven.
The Rev. Annette Joseph, an Episcopal Priest and an advocate for the end of violence against women writes:
“the depth of sorrow i feel is the same as the height of joy i feel
in the love i have for this we of community
i face the night sky
praying wind to blow strength
my hands reach up
wanting to encircle
and all i bring back is empty air
so i pray again
flinging it away sending words on wind
blowing across and east to you
wishing my arms could hold you all
in a broken heart
the big of joy is now the big of sorrow”
We carry our own crosses, each of us. The crosses of racism, sexism, and nationalism. In this time of great divide we carry the crosses that have been put upon us, given to us to carry. For myself, as a white, middle class, man the crosses that have been thrust upon me are those of racism and sexism. It is easy for me to pass judgement, just as Zebedee did, or live into white privilege, and ignore the responsibility I have to stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters with differing skin colors than mine, ignoring my responsibility to do the hard Kingdom work that we are all called to do, yet that would not be putting on my cross. That would be casting it aside, giving it to someone else to carry. When I don’t accept that I live in a place of privilege and live into the mainstream sexism that has become acceptable in our culture, I give the cross that is mine to the woman standing beside me. When I don’t work for racial justice, I pass off my cross onto the Latino man, Black woman, or Korean man standing beside me. When I don’t accept the fact that it is men who commit 90% of the domestic violence related crimes, I cast my cross off onto victims of violence. These actions of passing off the cross lead to blaming, blaming the person who is poor, for being poor. Blaming the woman with a black eye, for causing her husband to attack her, and blaming the woman who is continually harassed, for being a woman. As Joseph put it, it leads to, “fractured peace/violated lives.” Yet, just as God used what an oppressive regime intended for evil those many, many years ago, in a salvific act that would change the way that humanity relates to God, so God uses instances of control and hatred for good. Cindy, the Korean born American woman, was released, after advocates were able to help her get her proper paperwork in order. Zebedee walked away with the rest of the gathered mob, there is hope that justice will prevail for Trayvon Martin, and for the countless women who have suffered at the hands of abusers, there is liberation.
We mourn for our savior has breathed his last breath, but hope comes with the dawn, hope comes in the miracle of what God is about to do in Christ. The fulfilling of the prophecy, the leaning into the anxiety of the unknown, leads to the miracle of the empty tomb.
When we take up our crosses and acknowledge the sins of our upbringing and socialization, the crosses of racism, sexism, and violence, we align ourselves with Christ, and heed his calling to follow Him, even to death, for in doing so, we live into eternal life.