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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Meditation

I was listening to the prayers and readings today at the Good Friday service, and I was reminded of the words of Jon Sobrino and others who speak of the poor being crucified every day. Jesus, a poor man who became a threat to the ruling powers, was executed on a Friday. Crucifixion is a method of execution. To crucify is to put someone on a cross in order to kill them. It was done to punish criminals and exterminate enemies of the regime. Maybe we would be clearer on what happened that day if we changed to the word execution.

The "Jews," by which the gospel writers mean the rulers and elders of the Jews, were aligned against him with the Romans who were always eager to keep conquered peoples in their place. (It is a misreading to take this text as an attack on all Jews. Jesus' defenders and his accusers were all Jews, and he himself was a Jew.) According to John 19, they had a back-and-forth exchange with Pilate about what to call Jesus. Pilate said he was their king. They answered, "We have no King but the Emperor." Both Pilate and the Jewish power elite--the Sanhedrin, the Chief Priests, the leaders of the Pharisees, the lackeys of the Idumean king--disavowed Jesus as King.

Yet the gospel goes on to say that Pilate had a sign made to post on the cross, which said "The King of the Jews." The Jewish leaders were angry about it, but Pilate would not change it. The sign prophesied what neither of them believed. Jesus was crowned King of the Jews, a covenant people. This covenant people, signified by the vine, was not welcoming all nations to be grafted into the vine of Israel. So if Jesus was not the king of the Roman and Jewish powers, then whose king was he?

Jesus was lifted up on that day as king of those who are poor and suffer. Those whose wealth and power he challenged had rejected him. He was lifted up as the one who resists the torture and oppression of the powers in the name of the ones who suffer. He was the second Adam who overcame the failings of humanity. He demonstrated God's love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, he died for us.

The atoning work of Jesus is sometimes portrayed as a metaphysical, otherworldly accomplishment. Jesus, it is said, came into the world to die. But a critical turn has been made in theological reflection in the last part of the twentieth century. A renewed conviction has emerged that Jesus came into the world to live. Above all, Jesus came into the world to save. Jesus' life was an atoning life. His death interrupted that life without defeating it. Even facing and enduring death, Jesus' life of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly persevered.

Rather than an inevitability, Jesus' death was a contingent event in history. God's incarnation into the historical life of humanity did not somehow exist above or outside of history. Within real historical events, a real human being was caught up in the agendas of real people and real powers. The ruling parties of Jerusalem tortured and executed Jesus in a willful act of violence to terrorize his followers and to silence his voice. Jesus suffered execution in a willing act of submission and obedience to the law of love. He refused to join a violent system and perpetuate the chain of violent acts. He refused to renounce the Jubilee revolution he had proclaimed. Thus, he received the verdict of his hell-bent persecutors.

From the foundation of the world, God has willed that humanity's story be the extension of loving community in mutual submission one to another. Jesus, as the incarnation of the eternal Word, from the foundation of the world has willed this incarnation of loving servanthood, pouring himself out that creation may fulfill its destiny. This atoning work, his embodiment of the Reign of God in justice and love no less than his willing submission to execution and his victory over sin, death, and the grave on Easter, reaches to all of God's creatures, and especially to those who continue to be ground under the feet of oppressive power. For this reason, we call the remembrance of this terrible day Good. May the grace of Jesus' sacrifice bear you through to the celebration of his victory.

1 comment:

Mike Broadway said...

One station of the cross remembers the soldiers' gambling to divide Jesus' possessions. This year, we were standing near the Divinity Library, under some trees, and in the midst of our gathering sat a luxury car and a large SUV. It seemed so ludicrous to be talking about dividing up a cloak and a few other personal items one could carry, with these enormous signs of extravagance. I don't mean that I don't also drive a car and find it useful. I just found myself thinking of Jesus' poverty and US American opulence.

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