Cross of Death, Tree of Life

+ A homily given for Good Friday at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 30, 2018 +

Texts: John 18:1-19:42

How did we get here?
How did we find ourselves here at the foot of this cross as we see our Savior hanging there?
How did everything go so wrong?

For three years, Jesus spent his ministry challenging the systems of oppression and death that surrounded him.
He lived among the outcast and the marginalized – ate with them, healed them, walked with them, loved them.
He stood up to those who were in power – criticized corruption, subverted tyrannical structures, advocated for religious reforms.
He inspired many and he frightened many.
His was a message of love and a vision of justice for all people.

“Crucifixion of Jesus” by Paul Oman

But this message threatened those in power so much that they schemed to execute him.
They took this man of hope and they put him on a sham trial, they killed him as an enemy of the state and threat to the peace of Rome.
They mobbed together to lynch an innocent man so they could protect their own power as his mother and his followers can only watch in horror.

On this night we remember how God came to us bringing love and justice for all people and it was so offensive to this world that we literally wanted to kill God-With-Us by nailing Jesus to a cross.
That we were so threatened by God’s vision of peace and love that we murdered Jesus in the most humiliating and barbaric way we could think of.
It’s enough to leave us feeling hopeless – feeble – alone.

During the past year, I have talked to so many people who have felt powerless to change the realities of this world.
War, hunger, discrimination, corruption, and violence seem to remind us daily that there are evils in this world that we cannot easily change.
Systems of oppression, racism, sexism, and queerphoba tell us that there is still so much work to do.
The loss of innocent lives: Trans lives, black lives, children’s lives condemn us and show us that we are still crucifying innocent Christs all around us.

Each time an innocent person suffers at the hands of injustice and violence we see Christ crucified again.

School shooting reactionAs we began this Lenten journey to the cross on Ash Wednesday, we witnessed a crucifixion on national television as 17 innocent children were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
We saw pictures of mothers sobbing – one with an ashen cross still visible on her forehead – as they waited to find out if their child had been killed. If they were among those murdered on a cross of gun violence.

The family of Stephon Clark

Less than two weeks ago we heard of another crucifixion in Sacramento as Stephon Clark was shot eight times in the back in his grandmother’s backyard – a 22-year old innocent black man killed because he vaguely resembled a person suspected of vandalism. His two young children are left to wonder where their dad has gone and if he will ever come back.
But he was executed on the cross of racism and violence.

Each time a person dies on the streets of our community because they could not afford their rent, couldn’t find room in a shelter, couldn’t find a job that could sustain them – they die on the cross of greed, prejudice, and indifference.

The list could go on and on.
The crosses of this world pile up until it can be difficult to see around them.

So why on earth would we call this day Good Friday?
Why is it good to be reminded that Jesus died for challenging the system?
Why is it good to see an innocent man executed by the state?
Why is it good that the Empire won?

Tonight we behold this cross – this cross of Jesus and the cross of the world – this symbol of death.
This reminder that the world seeks violence instead of peace and hatred instead of love.
We gaze on what the Empires that surround us now have set up to scare us into obedience and subservience to fear, but we see something different.
We see the power of our God.
We see this instrument of death transformed into a tree of life.

The cross at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York

We see the tree that lifted up our Lord Jesus Christ who uses its power to draw the whole world to himself.
We see Jesus use the same cross that is meant to kill him as his own kingly throne of glory.
We see again that there are no limits that our God will put on love – that there is no depth our God will not go to proclaim that love to the world.

And through this transformation from death into glory, we glimpse the power of God that remains active in this world and here in this place where we boldly claim the name Holy Cross.
We too are drawn into the life that springs forth from its rugged beams – the new life that flows from its base.
We are reminded of our power in Christ to transform the destructive symbols and systems of this world from death into life – to bring hope where there is despair and love where there is hate following the example of our crucified Messiah.
Like the students around the world who marched last weekend demanding an end to gun violence.
Like the protests in Sacramento after Stephon Clark’s murder calling out for peace and pleading for an end to racial violence.
Like the advocates who gather at the statehouse and city hall demanding access to housing for all people.

On this cross, we behold our God made manifest.
Our God who was born and lived among us, who knew us and brought God’s message of love for us, and who died for that love at the hands of the Empire.
It’s on this cross where we see God most clearly.
It’s on this cross where we see God’s love for us made plain.
And it’s the same cross that reminds us that this death is not the end of the story.
It reminds us that no matter how hard they tried, the Empire could not stop Jesus’ message from enduring and death itself could not hold back God’s love.

And because we can see God’s transformational love, we can marvel in the mystery it holds as we boldly proclaim the new life it brings into the world.


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