Good Friday – 2018.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Chelsea, NYC.
(preached by the. Rev. Dr. Storm Swain, Associate Priest.)
[begins without an opening prayer]
Here we are again.
In a moment we will be at the foot of Cross,
in the midst of the story that we know so well
and yet need to hear again and again.
We hear it every Sunday,
sanctified and sanitized from the horror,
that somehow on this day, we hear anew.
As we step into the story Jesus is being executed.
It is not fast, it is not pretty;
It is body, blood, breath.
He has been arrested; his due process, seemingly like all the others, guilty until proven innocent, the authorities washing their hands of any complicity in systems of oppression, racism, religious extremism, and abuse of power.
He has been passed over and passed on, his innocence less important the popularity and position of those in power.
He has been stripped and paraded almost naked in front of voyeuristic others like any other victim of sexual abuse.
He has been whipped, tortured, the blood that drips from his head, his back , is enough to fill a cup.
He has been lain down and nailed to a cross, the torn flesh on his back pressing into the hard wood, nails tearing the flesh of his hands and feet, as each strike of the hammer rings out like a shot in the night.
As he hangs there, the weight of his body drawing him down, so his chest struggles to rise and fall, he can’t breathe.
The one that we have followed,
this simple Jewish teacher, preacher, reacher,
the one we have listened to, the one who has listened to us,
laid his hands on us for healing,
the one who has called us to him, no matter our age, or ability, gender expression, race, sexual orientation,
the one who has crossed the social borders, and taken down the walls between us,
the one for whom we have flooded the streets, lifted our hands, open our ears,
the one who open our hearts, opened our minds, filled our bellies,
the one who has even raised Lazarus from the dead,
Is he Mad?
He could have stopped this.
He, who has power to turn the world upside down,
why didn’t he stop this
We’ve heard the stories,
some have even started to write them down,
we’ve spoken to those who have seen the reality,
of water, wine, wind, and word attuned to his command.
Or is he really Mad?
Was he just imagining it all?
The Father that spoke to him?
The Holy One that spoke to us in his words?
Was it all imagination, a fantasy, delusion, hallucination?
Yet we’ve seen the power, the ultimate affront to life, that walked out of the tomb over a week ago.
And this week he has broken bread yet again with his beloved friend Lazarus, who does not smell of death, even as he has a far away look in his eyes.
If he had the power to turn that around,
why didn’t he take the power to turn this around?
Or is he Bad as they said?
Is the Victim really the Persecutor
Is he the one that broke our laws?
The one who will make us unclean, impure, impoverished
by his outrageous inclusivity?
by his attention to those that are “them” and not “us”?
by his turning over the tables of profit and privilege?
by his negating the structures of religious power and telling us that God is a close as opening our mouths in prayer, and eyes to others?
by his talk of a Kingdom that we can’t even see?
by his offensive claims that he and the Divine are one?
Or is he telling the truth?
Is this what he meant ?
It doesn’t make sense given his power.
It doesn’t make sense when we think of power, as power-over;
It only makes sense as power-for, power for others, power for us;
power that is so powerful, it is willing to give up power-over,
power-in-weakness, power-in-solidarity, power-in letting go of power,
experiencing the worst of what we can do, be, feel;
forsaking power, forsaking certainty, forsaking life, being forsaken?
We weren’t expecting this when he said he will be raised up and draw all people to himself?
All people, not just us, but those who aren’t even here:
those who have run away, those who are too scared to be on the streets, on the front lines, those who have denied, those who have stripped, and hammered, and don’t understand;
those who haven’t seen, haven’t cared, haven’t even heard yet.
Them and us. All people.
And here he is, all people, and one man.
Somehow even in the horror, we hear echoes of the Holy.
In the silence we hear the ‘still, small voice,’ that is louder than time, than death, than the impossible, than all that would silence it over the centuries,
and we are called again to lift our minds, lift our hearts, and lift our lives to the Cross.
We, here, know the story so well,
Is there anything new to learn from it,
anything that can change us again and again as we walk away from this place?
How do we, with the named and unnamed courageous women that followed, the Marys, with John, his beloved, with Mary, his mother, whose grief was stabling her heart, with the those in uniform who were doing what was asked of them, how do we see anew, and be seen?
If we see with the eyes of Jesus, we will see that we aren’t the only ones gathering at the foot of the Cross, we will know that he wasn’t the only one hanging there. There are those on his right and left - others being executed, deemed to be disposable. Others who are perpetrators of crimes that those in power see as worthy of death, or victims of a justice system that privileges the powerful.
There are other families gathering in grief, in horror, helpless and hopeless, in the face of death that they have no control over.
Jesus calls us to not just look at him, but to look where he looks and see what he sees.
Jesus sees, and Jesus dies.
Here the text invites us into the silence when the world stands still.
Is the silence as long as the six minutes and twenty seconds that Emma Gonzalez stood in front of the crowd?
Is the silence as long as the six minutes and 20 seconds that it look to shoot seventeen young people in Parkland?
Is the silence as loud as the ringing in the ears of those other who heard the shots ring out?
Was the crowd as big as those who gathered last week to say that power needs to be power for rather than power over, that the freedom to live needs to be privileged over the freedom to be armed with weapons that are seen as overkill when used on animals, but entitlement when used on humans?
Were the nails as cheap as the bullets used to execute Alton Sterling, as cheap as those that shot 17 year-old Courtlin Arrington, shot to death at her Alabama School, whose name we only know because it was on the lips of eleven year-old Naomi Wadler, as cheap as those that killed Stephon Alonzo Clark, shot do death in his grandparents backyard, armed with an i-Phone?
I brought these nails three years ago, cheap and easy to get. [thrown down on the pavement]
I brought these bullets, three days ago, cheap and easy to get. [thrown down on the pavement]
17 bullets; $7.98.
These deaths, this death take us to the foot of the cross, out into the world, and back again.
When the stripped, shamed, tortured, crucified Jesus dies, those on his right and left are not yet dead.
In the face of religious sensibilities that would not have real reminders of death hanging around during a holy festival, the bodies were to be removed from the crosses.
When Jesus is removed, he is dead already. This is not the fate of those on his right and left. It is the fate of those in uniform to actively extinguish their lives. It is the fate of these companions on the cross, to have their legs broken, so they bleed out, and die.
Jesus descends to the dead and he has company, those on his right and left, …Alton, Courtlin, Stephon, the 17, the Sandyhook 26, Pulse, and all those named and unnamed.
This body is broken, his blood is poured out, and he is joined by company, ‘angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven,’ all those who have descended to the dead.
And it seems like God has forsaken the world. It seems like the powers win, that power-over always has the last word.
The Word is silenced. In this moment Love does not win? Love dies,
and there is no Amen.
© Storm K. Swain, 2018.
Donate to our Restoration with PayPal
Choose to donate to our Restoration or Food Pantry with Qgiv