Lynching & Resurrection | Easter
This is a two-part sermon told in sacred story and reflection. I've included selected text of the Common English translation.
Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders. His betrayer had given them a sign: Arrest the man I kiss, and take him away under guard.”
As soon as he got there, Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi!” Then he kissed him. Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.
Jesus responded, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw? Day after day, I was with you, teaching in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” And all his disciples left him and ran away.
They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered … were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they couldn’t find any. Many brought false testimony against him, but they contradicted each other. Some stood to offer false witness against him, saying, “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, constructed by humans, and within three days I will build another, one not made by humans.’” But their testimonies didn’t agree even on this point.
Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”
Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”
They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!”
Some began to spit on him. Some covered his face and hit him, saying, “Prophesy!” Then the guards took him and beat him.
At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things.
Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” But Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled.
During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead.
Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”
They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”
They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”
Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.
The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, (to help ease the pain) but he didn’t take it. They crucified him.
It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left.
From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
No matter how many times you hear this story it hurts somewhere deep in your heart. Its the same sort of pain that you get when you see images of another black or brown body beaten or shot in the street. It’s the sort of feeling to get when you receive word of another school shooting, when you hear the experience of a survivor of domestic violence, when you learn that another gay teenager has completed suicide.
These are stories of power and status quo winning. I will not stand here and sugar coat it. Nor will not stand here and tell you that these acts of violence are God’s will. They are not. I cannot believe, do not believe in a vengeful God who uses violence to deepen our faith.
Jesus was killed by a militant empire and fearful religious leaders who all felt that their power and control was being undermined. In the book Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, Rebecca tells of a Lenten sermon series with her congregation in which she challenges the traditional doctrine of atonement, the claim that the death of Jesus on the cross saves us. She writes; “Jesus, a Galilean Jewish teacher, resisted Roman exploitation and cultural domination by teaching and healing. A community gathered around him. The Romans suppressed resistance by terrorizing the local population. Crucifixion was their most brutal form of capital punishment.”
To say that Jesus’s death saves us silences those who continue to die at the hands of systems of oppressive empire, it says that that it was a one-time thing that happened long ago. It distances us from the institutions of empire that continue to wield power through terror and violence.
Kelly Brown Douglas in her book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, draws out the similarities in the murder of Trayvon Martin, the young African-American man who was shot in Florida, and Jesus of Nazareth, who was murdered on a cross in Jerusalem. She writes, “Both Jesus and Trayvon were members of despised minorities. Both were feared because of who they were. Both stood “beyond the reach of citizen security.” Both offended the “lords of their land.” Both were accused of sedition. Both were killed by the rule of “law and order.” Both were victimized by a culture of lynching. Both were found guilty of their own deaths. Both deaths would shake a nation. Both deaths would say something about God.”
Crucifixion and lynching are about power standing its ground and maintaining the status quo. Throughout history, lynching in different forms has been the preferred method of power, crucifixion, trees, fence posts, and stand-your-ground laws, are all forms of lynching. In Jerusalem crucifixion was, as Dougals writes, the “stand-your-ground type of punishment for the treasonous offense of violating the rule of Roman ‘law and order’.”
In his life, ministry and death, Jesus crossed cultural boundaries, social boundaries and religious boundaries. He not only healed and ate with those on the margins, he initiated relationships and shared life with them and he died as a person on the margins. The salvation that Jesus brought was about restoring life and resorting dignity. He demolishes his social standing, to raise the social standing of others. He joins the class outcasts and dies as an outcast. He identifies fully with those who are marginalized in life and in his death, he identifies fully with those who are crucified then and now.
Douglas writes, “The cross reflects the lengths that unscrupulous power will go to sustain itself. Its powers last stand. … Essentially, the cross represents the height of humanity’s inhumanity. It is the pinnacle of the human opposition to God. There is no doubt that the guns of stand-your-ground culture are today’s crosses. … Unquestionably, the laws of stand-your-ground culture reflect a community’s desire to protect its way of life from those they find most threatening.”
When we justify the crucifixion of as necessary for our salvation, we are condoning state sanctioned terrorism, we are saying that torturer and murder, that whipping and bleeding to death, are the will of God and we unknowingly sanction lynching, violence and murder today.
Through Jesus’s torturous death on the cross we have the opportunity to recognize and name the face of violence. Violence destroys life. That is its only function. And when wheeled by power it seeks to control and dominate everything in its path. The Easter message, the message told in the death of Jesus, is to refuse to acquiesce to the legacy of violence.
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot.
The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Create. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Creator and your Creator, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
Refuse to acquiesce to the legacy of violence. Jesus in life, death and resurrection refuses to acquiesce the legacy of violence. Violence does not have the final word.
Violence seeks to silence. It is a threat used to dispel a movement, quell a dissenting voice and grief over violence can falsely lead us into isolation. Rome thought that the death of Jesus would be the end of the movement. They sought to silence his voice and in so doing they thought they silenced the voice of the people. Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock in the postlude of their book write, “…Western Christianity claims that we are saved by the execution, that violence and terror reveal the face of God. This claim isolates Jesus, as violence isolates its victims. When the victims of violence are made singular, solitary, unprecedented in the pain, the power of violence wins.”
But resurrection, is a story of survival. It is a story of finding your voice. Mary Magdalene is the first to find her voice, the first to announce that violence was not going to have the last word. Amidst the grief of anguish and loss, we find glimmers of the Divine shining through. In perceived strangers in the garden, in angels of all forms, in tiny sprouts, in the stories of loved ones, in glitter and stuff of the earth, in movements that coalesce, in the wilderness, in dancing candlelight, in simple gestures of service, and in acts of love. These glimmers and glimpses of the divine are what save us. They are what motivate us. They are what keep us speaking out against violence and power throughout time. Because we have known and seen violence win, by showing up, by celebrating the glimpse of the Divine, by standing up to violence we are the resurrection. Those who followed Jesus didn’t pack up and go home, they were the resurrection.
This was not a one-and-done deal. This was not a once-in-Judea-long-ago, this is here and now, this is down the street and across the county. Power uses violence every day to maintain power. These ancient stories fuel our continual resurrection. Resurrection happens whenever people stand up and say that violence does not have the last word. Resurrection happens whenever we proclaim and live out the Kin-dom of God. Here and now.