Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Sermon

Lord Jesus, who on this holy day of your Passion didst stretch out your loving arms on the hard wood of the Cross, that all might be brought within the reach of their saving embrace; draw us to yourself with the bands of your love, and grant that, we being bound to you as faithful servants, may take up our cross daily and follow you, and at last may attain to your eternal joy; for the honor of your Holy Name. Amen.

From the bombings of Coptic Christians in Egypt last Palm Sunday, to those Christians singled out throughout our world for their faith and whose lives are persecuted, Good Friday is a stark reminder that Jesus faced such persecution with his own body & gave up his life for us.

I have never known such persecution. I suspect most of us here tonight have never experienced such persecution. But there are those in our country who have tasted such persecution, the strange fruit that hangs from many of our trees in America.

I read the book… – strange fruit that is racism & bigotry – leads to lynching tree!

"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" (p. 3)

We must not forget such things happened in our country, for we are called to account for such sin, and to look to redeem and repent from such hatred in our own time.

"Throughout the twentieth century, African Americans continued to struggle to reconcile their faith in God’s justice and love with the persistence of black suffering. Writer James Baldwin spoke for many: “If [God’s] love was so great, and if He loved all His children, why were we, the blacks, cast down so far?” No one knows the answer to that question." (p. 28)

It is a question for Good Friday – the suffering so many have experienced. As James Cone says, "The church's most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus' cross."

How does the church bear witness to the power of life in the midst of a world awash in violence, lethal inequity and the impoverishment of bodies and souls? How does the church witness to the resurrection without being oblivious of those suffering on the cross or a tree? (Stephen G. Ray Jr.)

The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s was a violent, dangerous time. Many young white men and women from the North traveled to the South to be part of the struggle to secure equal rights for all Americans, black and white. Many of these young men and women - which included priests, sisters and ministers - paid dearly for their work and witness.

One young man, who had just graduated from college, went to the Mississippi delta region to work in voter registration. While there, he was invited to a retreat at a Benedictine monastery. The monks asked him, "Isn't that dangerous work you're doing? We hear the reports of hatred and violence."

"It's true," he said. "The hatred is vicious, and the punishment is violent." - "Have you ever been hurt yourself?"

The young college grad replied: ""Yes, I've been spit on, beaten with fists, with pipes, with chains and left a bloody mess." "But you're pretty big," the brothers said. "Weren't you able to protect yourself sometimes, to fight back?"

"Yes," he said. "At first I did fight back. I made some of them sorry they had attacked me. But then I realized that by fighting back I wasn't getting anywhere. The hatred coming at me in those fists and clubs was bouncing right off me back into the air, and it could just continue to spread like electricity. I decided I would not fight back. I would let my body absorb that hatred, so that some of it would die in my body and not bounce back into the world. I now see that my job in the midst of that evil is to make my body a grave for hate."

The monks was deeply moved by the young man's story. "We were all shaken by what this young man said," one brother recalls. "But what he was describing was the Gospel of Jesus." [From "The Good Fight: How Christians suffer, died and rise with Jesus," by Abbot Jerome Kodell, O.S.B., America, April 25, 2011.]

In the events of Holy Week, Jesus gives over his own body as a grave for hate. In our remembering the passion and death of Jesus, we see, in stark and real terms, the destruction our sins can wreak, the hatred & sin of persecution. Jesus' body becomes a looking glass in which we see ourselves in the arrogance and intolerance of those who bring him to the cross, a cross we have made others share, and sadly some experience around our world today. But that same body, in which evil dies, will rise to a new life.

In Christ's body that rises from its scars and brokenness, we realize the possibilities for re-creating our lives and our world in his Gospel of justice & compassion & love. God takes on our humanity in its brokenness in order to heal us of that brokenness: to open our eyes to realize our need for one another, to open our ears to hear the cries for compassion, forgiveness and justice around us, to open our spirits to embrace one another in our disappointments and pain. God takes on the hopelessness of the cross & the lynching tree in order to win for us the triumph of an empty tomb, to transform death from the final humiliation into the beginning of something much greater and sacred. This Good Friday we meet a God of such great love for us that he becomes one of us, and will die on a tree in order to make us whole again. Amen.

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