Preached on Good Friday 4/3/15 at Community Presbyterian Church, as one of seven meditations on the themes of the cross, along with Fear, Violence, Anger, Silence, Hope, and Redemption.
We are faced with a deep and difficult paradox on this day. Even the name we use – Good Friday – is provocative and it is difficult and it is controversial.
How can we possibly face the enormity of the truth of this day, the torture and derision and execution, and yet we call it “good”?! How can it be that we see the deep injustice of this story – that Christ who was and is innocent and blameless should suffer for us, his beloved ones – and yet believe that God has allowed it (or even caused it!) for our salvation? How far have we drifted into the abusive and death-dealing mindset of our world when we can remember the humiliation and death of an an innocent man and somehow call it “good”?
People of God, our redeemer may have worked through this violence and injustice as God works through all things, but if we truly believe that our God is a God of justice, then we must see this day for what it is. It is a day on which we remember pain, abuse, and mourning, like too many other days then and now. And as we remember this injustice that was inflicted on the very body of our God, let us remember in equal measure that God healed his wounds, raised him from the tomb, and said, “No more!” This death ends here.
So we are consoled in the injustices we face today. We are assured that even in our darkest nights, our deepest pain, that God is there and God is working through us. And as we can gather our strength back, we look around and see who suffers with us and around us. Out of our own struggles we draw power, we draw conviction to stand up and name injustice for what it is.
And that paradox is complex because the forces that bind us are complex. We each one of us are hurt and are struggling in our own ways, and yet we also have power in our own ways, whether it is power the world gives us or power we have to build up for ourselves, or a little bit of both. And so the pursuit of justice to which we are called as followers of Christ, the unjustly condemned, must also recognize that complexity. Our life depends on it.
For me, as a queer woman, as someone who battles mental illness, I have known persecution, I have known physical abuse, I have known what it is to be an outsider. And as a white person, as a Christian, as an educated person I am also an insider, and I must also face the reality that I am complicit in the suffering of others.
When I read the story of Christ’s last days, sometimes I see myself on trial in front of the religious establishment, sometimes I am with the heartbroken women at the foot of the cross; and at the same time I am Peter, warming my hands by the fire while my friend needs me at his side; I am the centurion, a cog in the machine of empire, realizing too late that I have killed the son of God.
The paradox of this day demands a counter-cultural response from those of us who would witness to a God of justice who worked through the injustice of this public execution. As we put our bodies and voices on the line for victims of police violence in these days, let us ask ourselves if we are speaking just as loudly for female victims, for transgender victims – or if we have retreated into the safety of white churches who will pay us comfortably, as long as we don’t stir up too much trouble.
Jesus died today for us and because of us. As we enter the darkness of the tomb tonight, keeping our vigil until Easter morning, let that sink in. God used this deep injustice for good. How are we, people of God, finding strength in our own suffering, putting down the crosses we carry, and standing up with those who suffer around us just as we stand up for ourselves?
The justice of God, the promise of new life which is just around the corner, and the gospel we preach with our lives depend on it.