Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross of Love

The Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
April 18, 2014

Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22:1-21
Hebrews 10:1-25
Psalm 69:1-23
John 18:1-19:37
The Cross of Love
            On Good Friday it’s been the custom since very early in Christian history to read the Passion according the Gospel of John.
            It’s a beautiful and powerful account, but one that needs to be put into some context. Listening to the story of betrayal and abandonment and calls for crucifixion, we need to remember that Jesus and all of his first followers were Jews. What we are hearing is a tragic conflict within Judaism and among Jews of the First Century. It’s a tragic conflict that has nothing to do with Jews of today or of any other time.
            It is an act of memory when we hear the calls to “Crucify him!” But, we’re not just remembering calls shouted two thousand years ago in Jerusalem.
            That would be easy, wouldn’t it?
            No, our task today is harder than that. We are meant to remember that Jesus is still crucified today.
            Jesus was crucified again last week in Kansas when a notorious white supremacist and anti-Semite opened fire outside two Jewish community centers, shooting five people and killing three, including a grandfather and his grandson. As it happens, the three people he killed were not Jews, though that seems to have been his intent.
            But, we don’t have to look as far as Kansas. That’s too easy. Jesus is crucified much closer to home.
            This morning many of us walked the Way of the Cross through the streets of Jersey City, through Incarnation’s and St. Paul’s neighborhoods. It was a very powerful experience – I wish you all could have been there.
            As most of you know, each station was at a place where there has been an act of violence in our community. When Laurie and I were working with the police to plan our route, the biggest challenge was limiting it to just fourteen sites.
            When we reached one of the stations, a young man approached the bishop and me. He seemed a little out of it but he said that he knew the man who has been killed at that spot – the man whose death we were remembering. Although he was heckled by a few of his buddies, he joined in our procession for a while and even hammered a nail into our wooden cross.
            There is so much violence and poverty and despair right here in our community.
            Jesus is being crucified every day on the streets of Jersey City.
            But we don’t have to look as far as the streets of Jersey City. Even that’s too easy. Jesus is crucified much closer even than that.
            We join in the shouts of “Crucify him!” every time we refuse to love our neighbor as our self, every time we look down at other people, make fun of other people, every time we treat other people as things instead of as beloved children of God.
            Jesus is crucified around the world.
            Jesus is crucified on the streets of our city.
            Jesus is crucified in our own lives and hearts.
            We Christians proclaim that God came into the world and lived among us and people just like us rejected him and crucified him.
            It’s not a happy story. And it would be so easy to give in to despair. Our world is broken. Our streets are bleeding. Our own lives are a mess. We fail to live up to our faith, choose not to be the people God made us to be. And people just like us killed Jesus.
            And, yet.
            And, yet, despite all of that, God still doesn’t give up on us.
            We hate and we kill and we despise and we ridicule and we crucify and yet…God still doesn’t give up on us.
            Instead, on Good Friday, God takes some of the worst we can dish out and on Easter God does what God always does: turn death into new life.
            God turns death into new life.
            God transforms the cross – that old symbol of oppression and humiliation and death – into a sign of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.
            A cross of love.
            So, this morning we carried that wooden cross through the streets of Jersey City not just to mourn the death of Jesus two thousand years ago and not even just to mourn the violence on our streets, though that was part of it.
            We carried that wooden cross as a sign of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and hope – a sign that another kind of life is possible – a sign that the God who came among us in and through Jesus – the God who raised Jesus from the dead - is still at work right now in and through us.
            Today is Good Friday.
            We turn our attention to the cross.
            We remember what happened two thousand years ago and we reflect on all the ways that we crucify Jesus today.
            We turn our attention to the cross – the cross, now for us a sign of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope for you and me, for Jersey City, for the whole world.
            It is a cross of love.
            And we are meant to carry this cross of love into our broken world.
            We are meant to carry this cross of love into our blood-soaked streets.
            We are meant to carry this cross of love into our lives and into our hearts.
            We adore you O Christ and we bless you.
            Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.