By your wounded feet: teach us steadfastness and perseverance.
By your wounded and insulted head: teach us patience, clarity and self-mastery.
By your wounded heart: teach us charity and love,
O Master and Savior. Teach us love. Amen. (adapted from Daphne Fraser)
Last week, the Bishops issued a Word to the Church, one sentence stood out for me: “In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.”
The shadow of the Lynching Tree. For many of our fellow citizens, mostly African Americans, the lynching tree was a form of terror to keep them in their place. As one historian and theologian put it:
"The lynching tree is the most potent symbol of the trouble nobody knows that blacks have seen but do not talk about because the pain of remembering—visions of black bodies dangling from southern trees, surrounded by jeering white mobs—is almost too excruciating to recall. In that era, the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community—symbols that represented both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope. Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time “an unquenchable ontological thirst” for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning." (from the Cross & the Lynching Tree)
The lynching tree was a form of social control, much like the Roman crucifixions, people crucified in places where the population could see them, as a warning for anyone stepping out of line. The Roman Empire would make you suffer and kill you in the worst way possible.
Enter Jesus. He refused to be controlled by the Jewish elite or the Roman authorities. Jesus said before Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
To which Pilate replied, What is truth. It is the question we must ask before the cross. What is truth?
In a world where truth seems to be constantly manipulated, constantly false, it makes us very cynical and doubtful about what really is truth.
What scared Pilate, what worried the Jewish leaders of Jesus day, was that Jesus embodied what he said. He lived the way he taught. People flocked around him because they sensed a truthful authenticity. Truth isn’t simply words on a page, truth is the lived reality of one who embodies what he or she says. This day truth was crucified on the cross, they thought they could control it but the Spirit of Truth that lived in Jesus still exists today.
It seemed on that Good Friday death triumphed over truth. Many looked on and wondered.
But even in his suffering and death, his truth lived on.
Consider one of the world’s greatest art treasures is Michelangelo’s Pieta, created from a single piece of marble in 1498, when Michelangelo was only twenty-three. It shows Mary, the Mother of Jesus, holding the broken body of her son on her lap. The combination of love and sorrow on Mary’s face, the sense of longing to take onto herself some of her son’s pain that she might lessen it, speaks to anyone who has ever loved and cared for another.In the passion and death of his beloved, God is rejected and humiliated, God suffers and dies — just as every human being experiences. But God allows himself to be broken in order that we might understand the fragile, impermanent nature of this life.
Only in John’s Gospel are we told that Mary is present at the Crucifixion. Others, not Mary, are involved in Jesus’ being taken down from the cross and buried.
Yet, in moving us so deeply, the Pieta strikes us as so right and true. Why? Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, in his recent The Lord is My Shepherd, offers this insight into Michelangelo’s creation: He sees in Mary the love and tenderness of “God in his feminine aspect . . . the God who created life in all of its fragile vulnerability, the way a mother creates life, a God who grieves for His children when they suffer, who suffers with them when they are cruel to one another, when they hurt and kill one another. Every mother, every parent who suffers the loss of a child is reenacting God’s grief at the death of one of His own children . . . God’s was the first heart to break.”
In the broken body of Jesus, we are reconciled with God; in the broken body of Jesus, our lives are transformed in the perfect love of Christ; in the broken body of Jesus, God’s Spirit of humility and compassion becomes a force of hope and re-creation in our hurting and despairing world. And Jesus broken body is found on
· The Cross.
· The Lynching Tree.
· Christians beheaded in the Middle East & Africa.
· Suicide Bombings in Iraq, Belgium and Turkey.
There is so much cruelty. So much violence. So much hate and fear.
As we will see as the Gospel continues to unfold this Holy Week, the brokenness we both suffer and inflict on one another can be healed in the love of God: love that is humble, love that is sincere, love centered in gratitude and selflessness. Love centered on the God who created us out of love, and who refused to let hate, fear and death rule the day.
A love we will see reborn in two days. Amen.