Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Preaching on Good Friday: Priestly Goth Preaching Chronicles X

I looked over this and have revised it slightly and added another paragraph 4/8/2009 10:50 pm. LEK

I am preaching on Good Friday and in the service there is both the chanting of the passion Gospel in John and the adoration of the cross. Reconciler's first Holy Week and Easter we had a Maundy Thursday service but I don't think we had a Good Friday service. At the time we were very small and we were also doing an Easter Vigil - late at night in the entire space of Chase Cafe (it was a lot of fun)- so I have never preached on Good Friday. Our first Holy Week and Easter with Immanuel we mostly showed up as a congregation for the services and subsequent two years I preached on Maundy Thursday. I will admit that I feel a little intimidated at preaching at that service. This is not because I will be preaching on Good Friday, but preaching in a service with such powerful liturgy, which has both the chanting of the Gospel and the adoration of the cross in one service. My preaching at first felt a little superfluous (There is also the knowledge that before we joined in the services it was Immanuel's practice to only have one sermon for the entire Great Three Days, so the preach preached on Maundy Thursday and there wasn't another sermon until Sunday. Sermons were added for Friday and Saturday to attempt to give liturgical leadership to Reconciler as well as Immanuel and St Elias). I am still struggling with what to say and how to say it given the rest of the liturgy.

I currently have two places to begin a meditation on Good Friday and the crucifixion. The first one is from my meditation this past Sunday, in which I talked about these events that we mark this week as being not only the center of our faith but the demonstrate for us the full extent of what the mind of Christ is and means. The mind of Christ ultimately means not only willingness to die but the conviction that although undesirable in many ways was the way to transform the world. The second comes from a comment Kate made this morning about it being difficult to both lay one's life down and stand up for what is just or against ones own oppression or an against injustice. Which has me wondering why this is? In part because as I see it in part based on Winks and Horsley's interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount etc., this laying down of life as a means to stand for justice. Though I must admit that I don't think I have thought this through thoroughly.

This is the beginning of my thinking this through more in depth. I will take the two examples I remember from Wink and Horsley: Walking the extra mile and turning the other cheek. For walking the extra mile, the argument is that this has to do with carrying the packs of Roman soldiers. According to Roman law a soldier could force a peasant (or anyone who was not a Roman citizen) to carry his pack for one mile but not more than a mile (if my memory serves me correctly a Roman soldier could be punished for having a peasant carry his pack further than a mile). Carrying the soldiers pack for two miles was both a laying one's life down (so as to take it up again) by submitting to the system but also forcing those in the system to face what they were doing, through embarrassing the soldier or getting him in trouble by a willingness to continue to carry his pack. Similarly, in turning the cheek the argument is that what is envisioned is that a master or wealthy/powerful person has back handed an inferior on the left cheek of the face with the dominant hand, the right. By turning the other cheek one is offering that the master or whoever hit you to treat you like an equal and hit you with the fist. What I am now thinking is that while these actions may have certain poignant message and may have even given Jesus' original hearers some moments of hilarity as they may have imagined a soldier begging a peasant to put down his pack and the follower of Jesus simply walking on as if oblivious to what he or she was doing, or imagining a servant offering the right cheek with the master flustering and stomping off. However, neither of these actually prevent violence from being meted out to the one following Jesus' recommendations, nor would it even necessarily change the oppressive situation. (I doubt very seriously that people insisting that they carry a soldiers pack for two miles instead of two would have brought down the Roman Empire, and end to its repressive and oppressive systems.) A master may very well take one up on the offer of the right cheek and deck you and all you would have for that is a broken nose or jaw. A soldier may very well beat you up for carrying his pack further than necessary and leave you maimed by the side of the road. My point is that if Jesus was suggesting or supporting some form of resistance movement and these are examples of the strategies of said movement then these are very poor examples of a successful resistance even of effective non-violent resistance. It seems thought that these teachings of Jesus are forcing the violence inherent in the other to come out even more (which could led to repentance but such is not guaranteed). What I am wondering is if Jesus' entire ministry, teaching, and suffering and death upon a cross actually doesn't fit with our current idea of justice as standing up for ones rights. Not that I would council in some generalized way for us to give up on this idea. Though we may have to admit that it is not a Christian idea or ideal.

Yet, this discrepancy between Jesus' teaching and actions and what we may hold as a means for achieving justice or conceiving justice, should not surprise us as Christians, if we agree that God's ways and thoughts are not our way and thoughts. The way of Jesus and the cross remain a difficult thing to swallow, the idea that justice comes to our world not by standing up but by passing through, by forcing the ways of the world to their logical and violent conclusions and suffering the consequences of that, seems insane. "Foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews..." says St Paul the Apostle. To resist by continuing to undergo a disgrace or injustice or oppression goes against every revolutionary idea, which calls to stand up, hold ones head high, resist, show the oppressor that he (lets go with the patriarchal narrative for a moment) doesn't hold all the power this is the means to effect justice and change in the world. And they may be right, but God in Jesus Christ was about something else or more than limited justice and change in the world, or the simple rectifying of oppressive situations: namely the complete and total passing away of the ways of the world and the transformation of the world into a new age. This passage we are told is the way of the cross, the change we seek in more just governments, the end of exploitation, freedom and a living wage, life that is more than survival, can come from nothing short of complete transformation that requires the repentance of all, through all coming to the cross. It is as odd for the Cross to be the banner of movements and resistance as it was and is for it to be the banner of armies.

The cross is the fullest way to justice but it claims that justice means letting go of the world and its expectations, and taking on the way of a God who did not speak out in defense and thus stands in judgment of all governments and human claims to justice. One cannot take up this way as some abstract principle, or as some ideal for the world as it should be. When this happens the cross itself becomes a means to manipulate and oppress by letting the powerful tell the poor and oppressed and abused that God does not want them to stand up and be accepted as equals and full humans. This is a great distortion of the way of the cross for it is not the way of the powerful, and it makes a mockery of the cross. However, it can be the way for all privileged, or powerless, powerful or oppressed, wealthy or poor, when they encounter Christ and from their places in society lay themselves down not because some one tells them but because they have heard the call of God in Christ, to take up their cross, believing that in laying down their life it is god who will take it up again and give them back their true selves, and in so doing will reveal the depth and breadth of the injustice of the world and its ways even in movements of resistance and community organizing. It proclaims that in truth only God is just and able to transform our world, and God chooses to do so by entering the suffering of the world and seeking to transform the world through example rather than power as force coercion and persuasion.

Hmm maybe i have a sermon after all.

Yet, I am well aware that I write this from a certain amount of privilege. So, I do not want this to be heard as asserting a particular interpretation of the cross for others, for the oppressed, the week or those without privilege I have. But I think it would be appropriate for my words to be an encouragement to see Jesus the cross and Jesus' teaching as something more than principles for successfully achieving justice in terms of current systems of government or as an ideology for resistance or even a movement of non-violent resistance. If eel there is a letting go a sacrifice if you will that Jesus' teaching, life and death call everyone to regardless of ones station or if one is or is not oppressed or victim of injustice. Yet this sacrifice can not and life of self-denial cannot be demanded of others by anyone with privilege or power. Though really it is not something that can be dictated by others, but comes through encountering the God who underwent crucifixion. The crucified one, not we humans of each other, and his teachings stand in judgment of us all and we must ask if we wish to follow the crucified one do we have the Mind of Christ, have we followed his way. On Good Friday we should be commiting ourselves once again to the way of the cross. This means different things in the living out and working it out depending on ones life circumstance. Jesus certainly never asked someone poor to sell all they had, but he did ask equally radical commitment to following himself no matter who one was poor or rich, oppressor or oppressed. I also could see how what I am attempting to get at might be seen as contradicting claims of "preferential option for the poor", yet I think what I am getting at is how God has "preferential option for the poor"- and it is not how we would carry out such a preferential option, and on some level it may not look like a good deal, to have God have such a preferential option for you if you are poor. It jsut seems to me that if we take the whole of the Gospels and follow their logic and let the passion actually be the emphasis they are for the Gospels then this is kind of disturbing and perhaps leaves more questions than answers. This may be a good thing perhaps especially for the oppressed and the poor. But I don't know, this all is hard to face squarely and face on. I want to find some wiggle room some very human hope, some ideology, some abstraction, and this Jesus the crucified one refuses to become a principle, and makes me sit at the foot of the cross and face his suffering as the way of God bringing about true justice and transformation to the world. It jut doesn't make sense, and yet I am convinced that the world is meaningless without this crucified God.