Friday, April 06, 2012

Death to Jesus


I logged on to Facebook early this morning to post some photos of our beautiful Maundy Thursday service to the parish page and there on the screen near the top of my newsfeed, one of my friends had posted “DEATH TO JESUS!” as a status update.

He wasn’t kidding or being ironic. He means it.

What should our response be?

Do we shrug, like Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians and just accept that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”? Do we rejoice, as Jesus suggests in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”?

Do we argue? Do we point out the amazing humanitarian work being done by so many Christians in the world? Do we try to find the weakness in his argument and beat him rhetorically with citations of scripture? Do we point to leading lights like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King?

Well, let me tell you something about my friend. He’s heard it. Trust me.

You see, this isn’t some guy who was raised in a radically atheist household, brainwashed from an early age to think that religion – and Christianity in particular – is dangerous hogwash.

Nope, he’s the son of a minister. The gay son of a Pentecostal pastor, from a community that is sometimes casually referred to as “Bible beaters.” It’s not a bad aphorism, actually, since short of being actually struck with the book itself, my friend has endured all manner of assault and abuse. He has had the Bible hurled at him mercilessly. He has been threatened, pummeled, humiliated, shamed and wounded in the name of Jesus Christ.

In fact, if anyone is to be blessed for being reviled and persecuted and for having all kinds of evil uttered against them on Jesus’ account, it’s my friend.

How does someone get so angry that they put “DEATH TO JESUS!” on their Facebook page on Good Friday? Easy. They grew up in a church.

“Oh, but,” you say, “not all churches are like that. My church is not like that.” Well, yes it is. There isn’t really “this church” and “that church.” There is only “the church,” the whole body of believers. The whole, universal church is the Body of Christ, and the wounds that Thomas demanded to see are right there in front of us, gaping and raw and ugly. Like Pilate, we want to wash our hands of the things that are done to the Body of Christ. “That’s not our fault,” we say.

The ancient Israelites understood that sin was communal, rather than individual. That’s why God destroys entire cities, why all the Egyptians suffered plagues even though it was really only the Pharaoh causing problems. And so in Holy Week when we sing

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee

it’s not just about our private but also our collective failures. The church has left a trail of victims in its wake. When the Bible is used to denigrate, insult, marginalize, subordinate, exclude, diminish, we cannot remain silent.

When I say “we cannot remain silent” I’m not talking about rising up in righteous indignation and pointing more fingers and saying “You all did this, clean up your mess.” We can’t draw imaginary lines across the wounded Body of Christ and say this part belongs to the Episcopalians, and that part belongs to the Catholics, and this part belongs to the ELCA and this part to the Missouri Synod, this part to the Southern Baptists and this part to the American Baptists. We’re responsible for this, and you’re responsible for that. All we’re doing is breaking the Body of Christ over and over and over again.

When the Samaritan came upon the man bleeding and dying by the side of the road, he didn’t chase down the Levite and the priest and shame them for their carelessness that almost resulted in an innocent man’s death. He went and ministered to the wounded man. It’s easy to see the Christ-figure in the Samaritan, the unreasonably generous comforter and the healer, but we shouldn’t miss the Christ-figure in the wounded and dying man, too.


As the nails were being driven through his hands and feet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

Tonight it will be my great privilege to chant the Passion Gospel at the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday. Personally, it is the most important thing I do all year. I’ve always had kind of a hard time imagining this strange, blood thirsty crowd demanding an innocent man’s death. Crucify him! Crucify him!

Well, now I’ve actually seen it. I have a face and a name to put on that crowd. I’ve seen someone calling for Jesus’ death. In exactly the way that we say, “Jesus died for our sins,” this man is standing there basically shouting “Crucify him!” because of the pain that we have inflicted on him; he’s that hurt and that angry because for him the church has never been anything but a horrendous source of torment. And he just wants this whole Jesus thing to die.

He doesn’t need us to forgive his blasphemy, we need him to forgive ours.

And, fortunately, strangely, wonderfully…Jesus’ death on the cross will work the healing that we need.