Our Violence and the Cross (Good Friday)

 
 
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him
--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals--

so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;

for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

 

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

 

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?

For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,

although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

 

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.

When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;

through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

 

 

"Our Violence and the Cross"

by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

 

Two news stories this week stood out to me as I prepared to preach to you here on Good Friday. Two real-life, contemporary events that drew me to look more closely at the Cross of Christ.

 

First, on this Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, 45 people were murdered in two bombings at Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Churches. ISIS attacked St. George’s Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria during the Sunday morning Eucharists. People gathered together to celebrate the Passion and Death of their Lord joined him in his sufferings in a way none of them expected. This horrible tragedy, and the martyrdom of our Egyptian sisters and brothers are poignant reminders that Christianity is dangerous for many around the world.

 

On Tuesday of Holy Week, we prayed, “Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, 220). And on Wednesday, we prayed, “Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed” (BCP, 220).

 

For Christians in places like Egypt, these prayers are not metaphors. To attend church, to pray the prayers, to make the sign of the cross are all acts of open rebellion against mainstream society. To be a public Christian is to rub against the grain of a world that would kill worshippers in their church simply because they don’t fit ISIS’s narrow religious and political ideology.

 

But perhaps turning our eyes toward the most recent martyrs of Egypt lets us off the hook. It’s way too easy for Americans today to blame our problems on Muslims. It’s too simplistic and sinister for us to paint ourselves in the “Christian good guys” camp and paint the “bad guys” as radical Muslim foreigners.

 

There is blood on our hands too. This leads to the second news story. Beginning on Monday, April 17, 2017, the day after Easter, the State of Arkansas plans to execute seven men in eleven days. Now, the nature of each of their crimes may be heinous, but since when have two wrongs ever made a right?

 

Nearly everyone involved in running the government of Arkansas identifies as a Christian. That majority of American citizens still claim to be Christian. And yet the death penalty remains legal in the federal government and in 31 of the 50 states, including our own state of Georgia.

 

We want to call ourselves Christians when it is convenient for us in a Christian-majority culture. But we aren’t interested in following Jesus when he calls us to say no to our society. We aren’t interested in following our Lord when he commands us to love our enemies (Luke 6). We aren’t interested in forgiving our persecutors and letting go of the hate and revenge that consume us.

 

That same part of us that recoils at the thought of forgiving murderers, though, is the part of us that shouts with the crowds, “Crucify him!” Our impulse toward violence today is part of the Great Sin of the world that nailed Jesus to the Cross. Our disordered love for revenge, violence, and hatred make us the kinds of people that systematically kill the guilty and the innocent alike.

 

And yet,

“Surely [Christ] has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

 

Christ came into the world and experienced some of the worst violence humanity had to offer. Christ endured the pain and suffering of all the sin of the world.

 

But according the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus suffered and died in order to heal the world. His suffering was not in vain. He endured the agony and shame, he went through death and hell in order to show that they have no power at all. He died so we could see that violence doesn’t work, and to heal us from the violence that dwells within us all.

 

Jesus asserts this truth in his famous dialogue with Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the [Jewish authorities]. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). The kingdom of Christ is not one of wars, bombs, or missile strikes. The kingdom of Christ isn't anything like human kingdoms because Christ rejects violence and revenge.

 

Through Christ, our iniquities and sins are forgiven. Through Christ, we are free. We don’t have to be retributive and vengeful anymore. We don’t have to believe in violence. We can pray with boldness and confidence for the souls of the Egyptian martyrs that their deaths are not in vain. We can even pray for convicted criminals, that God will have mercy on them and us. Death has no hold on us anymore because we have a new King who is willing to die to save us all. Amen.


 

Bibliography

 

  • Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

  • McCausland, Phil. “Arkansas Executions: First Two Men Scheduled to Die Push for Delay.” NBC News. Published 12 April 2017. Accessed 13 April 2017.  http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/lethal-injection/arkansas-executions-first-two-men-scheduled-die-push-delay-n745861.

  • McKernan, Bethan. “Egypt Church Attacks: Congregations ‘won’t celebrate Easter’ after twin Palm Sunday bombings.” The Independent. Published 12 April 2017. Accessed 13 April 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/egypt-church-attacks-easter-not-celebrate-palm-sunday-bombings-minya-coptic-orthodox-diocese-a7679631.html.

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