a sermon, based on John 18.1-19.42, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Good Friday, March 25, 2016
Paraphrasing the African American spiritual, if we had been there when they crucified our Lord, what would we have done? Speaking always, only for myself, I would have been disheartened by the blind jealousy of those who sent Jesus to Pilate, foolishly rejecting one who only sought to do good. And disturbed by the violence of the crowd, who with a mindless mob mentality, cried, “Crucify him!” And dismayed that the crowd, given an opportunity to release Jesus, demanded the freedom of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, choosing a terrorist over a peacemaker. And disgusted by the cruelty of soldiers who scorned and scourged Jesus, perhaps offering in their defense that empty, evasive excuse that they merely carried out their orders. And disillusioned by the disciples’ cowardice, forsaking Jesus in his greatest, gravest hour of need.
Yet, in my disheartenment, disturbance, dismay, disgust, disillusionment, I am secure in my moral superiority only for a moment before I hear again that haunting question: Were we there when they crucified our Lord?
Not physically, but existentially and spiritually, thus no less truly. For those who were there were people, thus, in our shared humanity, like us in every respect and we like them.
John’s passion narrative, then, is a mirror in which we can (that is, we are able to) behold the reflection of all human-experienced and human-administered suffering. John’s passion narrative also is a mirror in which we (and here I employ a word I utter infrequently and carefully because of its manifestly great moral freight and weight) must (that is, we need to) behold the reflection of all human-experienced and human-administered suffering…
And this reflection is true for all we have seen and do see – whether in Oklahoma City, on 9/11, and in Ferguson, Missouri, Paris and Brussels, Nigeria, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Beirut, Syria, and Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq – for the places of human-administered suffering have been endless and the peoples who have experienced it, countless…
And this reflection is true for all we will see. For as human history never has known a time of universal comity, of world peace, but rather testifies to the human proclivity for violence, whether rooted in political or religious, philosophical or theological ideology or wrought by the sudden, though perhaps long-simmering outburst of anyone, at any time and in any place, in possession of gun, so, I believe, we never will know a time of collective tranquility…
As this is so, this reflection via the mirror of John’s passion narrative becomes a lens through which we can and must look back two millennia to that land called “Holy” on that day called Friday and confess if we had been there, the result would be the same. Jesus would be crucified. Jesus would die. For this, we can and must tremble in sorrow.
Yet as this is Good Friday, let us, standing at the cross of Jesus, also tremble in anticipation of a new possibility…
For there in Jesus, who willingly submitted to his death for us, we behold the possibility that we might choose to die, to crucify all that is within us that makes for death – as those who sent Jesus to Pilate, our jealousies, as the crowd, our thoughtless violence in word and deed and our favoring retaliation over reconciliation, as the soldiers, our acts of cruelty, as the disciples, our cowardice in the face of trial.
Were we there when they crucified our Lord? Yes. Yet if we dare see in the cross of Jesus not only the terrible instrument of human brutality, but also an anticipatory sign of our new possibility, then we, not only in sorrow, but also in joy, might sing:
Sometimes it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble.
We were there when they crucified our Lord.
Photograph: High altar, Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Laurens, SC, on Good Friday, March 25, 2016