First preached online on Friday, April 10th, 2020 on Good Friday for an online service of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square.
Relevant lectionary texts here.
He saw it coming, the way a lot of slain revolutionaries do. He knew how this would go. He saw the way that John was snatched away, imprisoned, executed. He had grown up hearing stories of uprisings all around him, rebellions that had been squashed, radicals who had been snuffed out.
This Empire was ruthless.
They waited until nightfall to arrest God. They had turned us against each other using counter-intelligence programs, creating infighting in our movement, planting an informant in our midst.
The cops came with torches and their usual show of excessive force. They cuffed him and beat him, screaming, “Stop resisting!” as they hit him, laughing and noting “assaulting an officer” to add to his charges.
They dragged him from kangaroo court to kangaroo court, from one sham trial to the next. But they had profiled him as guilty the moment they laid eyes on his brown skin and wooly hair.
They decided to make an example of him. They couldn’t let anyone else get the same idea, disturbing the peace.
They hung him high, lynched him on the Place of the Skull for everyone to see, to remind us all – Know your place, or else. This is what happens if you go up against the Empire.
In the headlines they reminded us he was No Angel. He should have just complied, been respectful, obeyed orders. But what could you expect, really, with a family like that, a teen mother and a blue collar father (was that even his father)? You heard about his criminal background, right? Vandalism earlier that week, turning over tables and everything, probably gang related.
Even though this story is so familiar it’s still so confusing. This cross, a mystery, so strange, so barbaric, so beautiful, so horrifying, so contrary to our ways, so hard to comprehend. There’s a lot of ways Christians have tried to understand, to try to make sense of what happened on Golgotha, and what the cross means.
I grew up hearing about a vengeful, blood-thirsty God who kept an uncompromising cosmic score, who was so angry about my sin that his penalty for me was death, and the good news was that Jesus took on that death sentence for me, in my place.
But now I look around and it’s clear to me it’s not God that demands blood sacrifices.
We are the ones who slaughter people, spilling their blood on the altars of the status quo. We are the ones who trap people in cages during pandemics. We are the ones who turn desperate people away at our border. We are the ones who throw money at militaries and defund schools. We are the ones who hear of a coming pandemic and instead of ordering more ventilators, cash out our stocks.
We are the ones who sell our souls to worship the false gods of the Death Cult. We bow down to Capitalism, White Supremacy, and the Cis-hetero Patriarchy in exchange for our own temporary comfort, security, or convenience.
It’s us, not God, who puts people on crosses.
God doesn’t crucify people. We do.
God has more in common with the murdered trans women of color, the undocumented man who dies in ICE custody, the domestic violence victim, the abused child, the forgotten, the neglected, the cast-aside. God has more in common with the crucified ones in our midst than with any of the merciless sadistic stories about God we’ve been told.
Callousness and cruelty is not in God’s nature. But sometimes it’s ours.
I used to think that the cross was about appeasing a wrathful, blood-thirsty God. Now I trust that the cross is about God’s forgiveness when we cause suffering, and God’s solidarity with us when we suffer. It is God’s compassion spilled out for all of us, even and especially when we least deserve it.
The cross is the moment where God stands in judgement of us, and the judgement God renders? Is mercy. Pure mercy.
Humans tried to wear out God’s love, we killed God, we gave God our worst. And in return God gave us boundless, endless grace.
God knew that we were torturing and killing each other. God saw us suffering. And even though God knew the pain that was coming, God didn’t try to avoid it, or use God’s power to turn away from it.
God marched onward towards pain, towards death, towards the cross, towards us and God said, “I would rather die than let you go through death, alone.”