The Cross Wherever

Posted: April 19, 2019 in Uncategorized
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Tonight, the small Christian community in which I participate observed a hybrid service, a blending of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We sang Passion hymns, received the offering of special music, read responsive prayers, shared the Lord’s Supper, and heard the Passion story from Luke’s Gospel. A multi-sensory service, we tied red and black ribbons on a cross covered with chicken wire. And of course, our Pastor shared a brief meditation.

She made a provocative choice, one I appreciate not only for the courage it took to make it at all but the connections it made for the gathered body. She summarized portions of James Cone’s now classic book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Cone paralleled the Roman state-sponsored terror of mass crucifixions with the state-tolerated plague of lynchings in white supremacist America. Both used violence and threats of violence to control the masses.

Every soul in the church came face to face with the ways that the cross of suffering continues to show up everywhere, and what’s more, the image of lynching turns around and back toward our Lord: Jesus had a public lynching.

The cross does continue to show up and God’s people are hauled up upon it today. Elie Wiesel’s haunting recounting of the hanging of a young man in a concentration camp, legs kicking, struggling for life, includes muted questions from those forced to watch:

“Where is God now? Where is God now?”

From the same crowd comes an answer: “There – there on that gallows.”

God is always on the gallows just as Jesus was. God hangs by a noose, swinging from a lynching tree. Because wherever suffering is present, there is God. Wherever the weak and vulnerable are exploited and abused, there is God. Wherever the state uses violence as a form of control, there is God. Wherever humanity is so broken that only pure, unconditional, self-giving love can possibly set us free from ourselves, there is God.

At the end of the service we followed the cross in silent procession outside to the front lawn of the church and posted it in the ground. Immediately across the street from the church are bars, restaurants and hotels, and they were full of Friday night revelers. We forget that Christians in our present American culture comprise an extreme minority. On Good Friday that percentage is even smaller. The people across the street paused to look up at the strange assemblage. They wordlessly considered the ribbon decked cross and people standing around it. What could this public witness possibly mean, this spectacle?

Soon enough they returned to their fun, and like the people walking near Jesus’ cross in his time, became distracted with more pressing and interesting matters.

 

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