April 2: Good Friday

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Good Friday, April 2, 2021, was preached in response to John 18.1-19.42.

For a long time,
it was dangerous to be Jewish
on Good Friday.
It was dangerous
because of how the text we just heard today
was heard and translated
and how it was used.
John, writing as a Jew,
certainly didn’t mean for his words
to be a fuel for antisemitism.
Yet they have been,
and they are.
For Jesus the danger
wasn’t only being Jewish
in an occupied land;
Jesus has preached repentance
and good news for the poor,
that God’s reign is at hand.

Most recently,
worst of all,
setting the plot for his arrest in motion
Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus has shown the religious and military leaders
that he has power over death itself,
power over the last tool of the tyrant.
He’s promised since early in his ministry
that the temple, his body,
would be destroyed
and raised in three days.
Now he’s raised Lazarus from the dead.
Challenging the status quo of death,
stirring the crowds not to insurrection
but to hope for a new, better, different life,
Jesus must die.
So he’s “tried”
and found guilty
and crucified.

For a long time,
it was dangerous to be Jewish
on Good Friday.
In certain places and times
anti-Jewish violence
was the unofficial ending
of Good Friday liturgies.
It’s still dangerous,
with anti-semitism on the rise,
to be Jewish in the world.
It’s dangerous
to be an Asian person,
as we’ve seen those attacks rise.
It’s dangerous
to be Indigenous in the United States
with broken treaties
and broken policing.
It’s dangerous too,
to be a Black person in the world—
especially a black man.

As we’ve journeyed
on this week that we call Holy,
Derek Chauvin is on trial.
Last year Clive Lewis wrote
that George Floyd was lynched:
“Like countless lynching victims before him,
George Floyd’s death occurred
in full public view.
“Like countless lynching victims before him,
George Floyd’s death was captured on film.
“Like countless lynching victims before him,
George Floyd pleaded with his executioners:
for water, for air, for mercy.
“Like countless lynchers before,
murder suspect Derek Chauvin
looks calmly into the lens of the camera,
with the self-assurance of someone
who has done this before
and will do it again,
with impunity.
“Like countless lynchers before,
Derek Chauvin was surrounded by those
who believe they too are above the law.
“And just like the communities
the victims back then came from,
few have any faith lasting
justice will ever be forthcoming.”[1]

As James Cone reminds us,
“Lynching was the white community’s way
of forcibly reminding blacks
of their inferiority and powerlessness.
“To be black
meant that whites could do anything to you and your people,
and that neither you
nor anyone else
could do anything about it.”[2]

“Crucifixion” Cone says, “was recognized
as the particular form of execution
reserved by the Roman Empire
for insurrectionists and rebels.
It was a public spectacle
accompanied by torture and shame.”
Sound familiar?
Today on this Good Friday,
when Jesus lets himself be betrayed
handed over to sinners,
and dies because of our sins,
it is in the cross of Christ we glory.
Cone says,
“The paradox of a crucified savior
lies at the heart of the Christian story…
“The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol
because it inverts the world’s value system
with the news
that hope comes by way of defeat,
that suffering and death do not have the last word,
that the last shall be first
and the first last.”

Jesus never makes the claim
to die for our sins.
Paying attention, though, we see
as one of you remarked over the last week
that Jesus at least died because of our sins.
The Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world,
can only be raised to new life
if first he dies.
Today on Good Friday,
we sit in the paradox of Jesus,
the crucified savior.
James Cone, again,
“The gospel of Jesus
is not a rational concept
to be explained in a theory of salvation,
but a story about God’s presence
in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed,
which led to his death on the cross.
“What is redemptive
is the faith that God
snatches victory out of defeat,
life out of death,
and hope out of despair,
as revealed in the biblical
and black proclamation
of Jesus’ resurrection.”

So today,
on Good Friday,
a day when it’s been dangerous to be Jewish
because of our forebears’ actions,
we need the Cross.
While Derek Chauvin faces trial
for killing George Floyd in a crowd,
we need the Cross.
We need Jesus’ cross
not to ameliorate our sins
and blot everything out
so we can act like nothing happens.
James Cone the Black liberation theologian,
drawing from the groundbreaking work
of Latin American liberation theologians
challenges us,
“The cross needs the lynching tree
to remind Americans
of the reality of suffering—
to keep the cross from becoming
a symbol of abstract,
sentimental piety.
Before the spectacle of this cross
we are called to more
than contemplation and adoration.
We are faced with a clear challenge:
as Latin American
liberation theologian Jon Sobrino has put it,
[challenged] ‘to take the crucified
down from the cross…’
“Every time a white mob
lynched a black person,
they lynched Jesus.”

Every time a Christian mob
responded to John’s gospel
by attacking and killing Jewish people,
they attacked and killed Jesus.
“The lynching tree
is the cross in America.
When American Christians
realize that they can meet Jesus
only in the crucified bodies in our midst,
they will encounter the real scandal of the cross.”
Look on the wood of the cross,
on which was raised the savior of the world.
O come,
let us worship.

[1] https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/george-floyd-was-lynched/
All references to James Cone are from The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Kindle edition.

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