Take 2, Palm Sunday 2021
It was perhaps four or five years ago when we were taking our Good Friday Stations of the Cross around the block and out onto Maine Street that a pickup truck pulled alongside us; the driver called out, “What are you protesting?”
At first, I was taken aback, but then as I looked around, there we were, carrying posters that bear the words: “Jesus is condemned, along Korean youth protesting for justice,” and “Jesus carries the cross — of a Mayan child’s coffin in war-torn Guatemala,” and “Jesus is stripped – of his dignity in each naked and abandoned outcast of the world,” and I realized that we did in fact look exactly like what he saw, so I called back, “We’re protesting the crucifixion of Jesus!”
When mass shootings happen at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Orlando, Atlanta, Boulder – whether schools or gay bars or massage parlors or grocery stores – people rally for gun control, write letters, propose legislation, then most go home to their busy lives. When unarmed Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd died at the hands of police brutality, people protested, sometimes for weeks, wrote letters, proposed change, then most went home to their busy lives. When Jesus was arrested, tortured, and killed, no one protested, or asked Rome to change its policy of oppression, or wrote letters (at least not at first). And yet that’s a death that we’re still proclaiming over 2000 years later.
What is it about Jesus, a member of an oppressed minority executed under the orders of a brutal regime, that continues to haunt us so that we still, quite literally, take to the streets? This condemned man, of course, is God’s own Son. And instead of being caught unaware as those other victims were, Jesus knew what he faced, and accepted it.
As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Phillippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself….
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
Jesus emptied himself, humbled himself, accepted death, even the humiliating death on a cross. Why? Why would he do that?
The words and images that haunt me from Mark’s passion narrative include: betrayed, deserted, denied, false testimony, spitting, blindfolded, stuck, beaten, struck again, spat upon, mocked, derided, mocked, taunted, crucified, forsaken. Do I really want the mind of Christ Jesus if it might lead me to this?
Having taken part in the Sacred Ground curriculum, I’m increasingly aware that many of my siblings of color in this country have no choice; they routinely suffer betrayal, false testimony, beatings, mockery, and death as a result of over 400 years of genocide, enslavement, dispossession, and, yes, legislation. So now when I feel anxious or sad because of all that has been emptied out of my life during the past year’s pandemic, I’m forced to realize that I’m responding from a point of privilege; mine is not the kind of emptying out that Paul is talking about.
Howard Thurman, a theologian and civil rights leader of the last century, says that it was necessary for Jesus to come among us as one of what he calls the “disinherited,” the minority– those “with their backs to the wall” – so that everyone might see the absolutely incontrovertible love that God has for all people — so that each of us, no matter what our circumstances, each of us might know ourselves a beloved child of God. Thurman writes: “To the degree to which I know this, I am unconquerable from within and without.” God’s love bestows dignity and worth on every human being, no exceptions. And because Jesus knew in his entire being that God loved him, he could endure the torment of his passion.
So what does all this mean for those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus? St. Paul tells us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” We are called to humility and obedience, and ultimately to love, in whatever form that takes in each of our lives, to a love that extends beyond our COVID bubble into the wider community, into companionship with the dispossessed, into solidarity with those brutalized by violence in any form.
If anyone stops by St. Paul’s parking lot during this Friday’s Stations of the Cross, sees our posters, and asks what we’re protesting, I hope my answer this time might be more expansive: “In the name of love, we’re acknowledging the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, and by extension, we’re protesting violence that harms any of God’s beloved children.”