Our church held an outdoor Easter celebration at a nearby park amphitheater this past Sunday, and I was pleased to bring two messages. The second was enacting one the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus with a charcoal grill, and the first was a short sermon. Several folks asked me to post it, which I have done below (assiduous liturgists should note that the sermon has a lot of Good Friday in it, but that’s because our church didn’t meet on that day.)
On the cross, Jesus said those famous words, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”.
And I don’t want to call Jesus a liar, but I’m wondering, ‘really?’. “Really, Jesus?” It seems like Jesus might be a bit generous with that assessment.
I saw a great blog post about this this week, from a Methodist minister in Alexandria. He listed off the many people who had sinned against Jesus that week, in full awareness of their actions.
Judas beat Rome to the punch and sold out his friend for a few pieces of silver.
The soldiers did much more than ‘their duty’– the beat and humiliated a defenseless man.
Pilate made a shrewd political move– reinforcing his good standing with both Rome and the Jewish people– while making an example of a rabble-rouser for good measure. It was just another crucifixion on another day.
Peter promised to hold fast to Jesus, but he failed three whole times. The first one might have been expedient or accidental, but he knew what he was doing thereafter.
And the people who gathered to watch Jesus die– except for a handful of his followers– were there for blood, or for their purient interest, or to say, “Better him than me”. They knew what they were doing.
On Good Friday each year, we stop and remember and say, “We know what we are doing”
We identify with the folks who were there, saying, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” We refuse to point a finger at them through many centuries of blame and derision, and instead we say, “Yes. We are the kind of people who do things like that. We are the kind of people who kill Jesus”.
We, who turn a blind eye to injustice. Who change the channel. Who hurry on by someone in need. Who wonder if a beggar will spend our donation on liquor, when we are ourselves hurrying home for a nightcap.
It wasn’t an unreasonable, bloodthirsty mob who killed Jesus, it was everyday folk who said, “Let the government handle this in the way that the government sees fit. Let’s not get ourselves in trouble here”.
We are the kind of people who are quick to fear that which is unfamiliar. When someone shares something new, something refreshing, something wonderful,
we say, “This is too good to be true’.
We are the kind of people who scapegoat, who label and pigeon-hole and marginalize. We distrust the innocent, and we reject the love that people try to share with us. We push away those who we deem ‘different’ than us.
We are the kind of people who give a death sentence to that which threatens our status quo. No matter how miserable we might be, we want to destroy that which upsets our Way of Life. We want freedom so badly that we will bind up anyone who seems to threaten it.
We fear peace. We are suspicious of innocence. We distrust love. So we kill innocence, and we crucify love. And then we walk back home.
And what does love do? Love lets us. Love says, I cannot fight against your hatred, for that would not be loving. Love says, I weep over your distrust, and over your rejection, but I will move toward you anyway. I will move toward my fate with open hands and an open heart. Do what you will. Do what you must.
Love embraces us in all of our distrust and bloodlust and blame and fearfulness. Love accepts our labels. Love allows our scapegoating. Love embraces us while we slide a dagger into its side.
And in our betrayal, love undoes us. When we have done what we will, done what we must, we are left with ourselves and what we have done. When we have done what we will, we finally get what we wanted– our freedom and independence. We are all alone, safe from everything but ourselves.
Our self-destructive, distrustful selves.
God, forgive us for what we have done. For what we still do. For what we will keep doing.
And then love does what love only can. Love comes back. Unable to be defeated, even by our lust for death, love returns to show us that it is not undone by hate,
but made stronger, and made more powerful by contrast. Love comes back, to show us that freedom is not achieved by power and might, but by weakness and submission. Victory comes through death, not by killing. Love comes back, to bring us back to life. Love comes back to raise the dead.
We did to Jesus what we wanted, and in so doing we became that which we most fear. But Jesus brought victory over death, through that death.
For love is stronger than hate, peace is stronger than fear. And in the end, Love is stronger than the grave.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.