Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday Homily

Good Friday service, All Souls, April 3, 2015
traditional reading: Mark 15: 16-41

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters[c]); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus[d] to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.[e] 29 Those who passed by derided[f] him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah,[g] the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[h] until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[i] 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he[j] breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[k]
40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

Good Friday Homily:
“Crosses and Conversions”
Rev. Ron Robinson

We are here today not just because of what happened some two thousand years ago, as momentous as that turned out to be; we are here because it keeps happening, keeps happening. Think of all that has occurred of unjust suffering since we were here just one year ago, far away and close at hand, in headlines and heartbreak, incident after incident across the country, execution after execution, until it becomes almost, almost as unremarkable and as forgettable as all those many many Roman crosses that lined the roads leading up to Jerusalem at Passover time.  What one scholar (Dom Crossan) calls “the normalcy of civilization.”
An oppressed community torn asunder, leaders killed, potential leaders killed, dispersed, reacting in fear, turning on themselves; the living “as if” another world of love and justice and plenty for all is possible, is met by those living for power and position and the status quo which gives status to a chosen few. Keeps Happening, keeps happening. The victims of so much domestic violence, of terrorism, of sudden acts of insanity. Headlines and Heartbreak all around us. The temples of our lives, of our communities, ripped in two.
And Beyond our personal losses, our fears, our never too deeply buried pains and shames that we carry Good Friday to Good Friday, beyond the tragedies that make Breaking News become ho hum, will there ever be a time when Good Friday for us does not remind us of the race-based Good Friday killings three years ago? Or maybe for some it already is fading? Is something that doesn’t just spring to mind with every mention and thought of the holiday?
Oh how we might long for a centurion’s conversion of our society? Maybe his statement of belief was more mocking at Jesus’s death; scholars debate that point; but maybe being up close and personal to the cross, having it all confront him, something about this particular minor nobody, in the eyes of the Empire, turning still to his God, this nobody unashamed to cry out to his God, seeking his God and not Caeser even at that moment when it would seem Caeser was in control, maybe it was a conversion moment when the suffering so common in the world couldn’t any longer be put out of sight and out of mind.
I am reminded of the phrase that Sister Simone Campbell uses to describe the mission of her progressive Catholic nuns travelling the country on buses seeking to, as she puts it, “walk toward the wounded; walk with the wounded.” It is turning toward the cross, as did Jesus as he taught and healed and liberated people in the shadows of all those Empire crosses. It calls to us today to walk that way too.
The recent documentary on the Good Friday killings in north Tulsa, Hate Crimes in the Heartland, helps us to keep the wounds and sufferings of our community in front of us. It is shown every so often here in Tulsa and I believe will be shown again next month. It is a way to walk toward and with the wounded. As quickly as was the response by law enforcement, as much as the community leaders sought solidarity and helped maintain a calming presence, in the zipcode where most of the killings and woundings took place, and where the killers also lived, the wounds still run deep, as does the fear and the shame and the anger and desperation. As long as Good Friday is happening every day for people who die 14 years sooner than others in our community the wounds still need witness.
There was a centurion’s conversion of a sort I was witness to that Holy Weekend three years ago. Much of my family and I still live in that zipcode; my father among them. Two days before that Good Friday he had turned 80 years old; we were taking him out to dinner that Wednesday night to celebrate but first I talked him into being a guest presenter with me to a class of graduate social work students who worked with us in our neighborhoods. That night we talked about the history of racism, segregation, abandonment of our area by business and government and schools just as soon as it was integrated, about white flight and redlining. My father’s father, a machinist working near Greenwood, had moved our family to north Tulsa at the time of world war one. My grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan as so many were in Tulsa and Oklahoma, of all social classes; his own grandfather had owned a slave;  I hear very few other families owning their past, though, from that time, and when we don’t we let shame and guilt still give those days and racism power; to do so, though, is to turn a little bit toward the cross. I have a photograph of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, shot from a distance of the burning and smoke, that I found that had been hidden in old photos in my grandparents’ attic, right alongside all kinds of other family photos. But those days weren’t the last word.  And so my father, growing up and living all his life so far in our northside zipcode was determined that even though he had been raised racist, that he wouldn’t raise us the same way if he could help it. He didn’t flee from the conflict of integration but stayed and was among the volunteer first basketball coaches of an integrated junior high in 1967 in North Tulsa, forming relationships that last to this day.
And yet, when at age 80, he met with that class of social work students and we talked about race and history of north Tulsa, he told them that most of the racists had all moved away, that it was nothing like what it had been. It was a common refrain; it does no good to keep looking at the past, my white neighbors and family would say; that’s not a cross we need to keep bearing. (of course my American indian neighbors and family have a different take, as do many of my African American neighbors). And then two days later the race-based killings on Good Friday happened. And my father had a conversion of sorts. He said he was wrong to have told the students that. Like many people, maybe the centurion too, he was learning the difference that the cross of racism, and the many other sins among us, is more than something that bad people do to good people; it is in the very Empire itself, and so things Keep Happening, Keep Happening. And that the one hanging from the cross, with so very little on his suffering lips besides a lament, he has spoken volumes through the years about the clash of worldly power and Divine Love that does not let the cross have the last word.
And I love that the documentary is also not letting the daily media narrative of the killings have the last word either, to make it old news. For in the documentary you also get glimpses into the lives of the killers, and they too become a part of a Greater Story. The teenager, of American Indian and European American ethnicity, whom my aunt had babysat for when he was a toddler and who had seen first hand the violence of his own upbringing, violence that continued throughout his life and up to the week of the killings; and the documentary shows how the older killer too was from a family with multiple races and ethnicities, with a black half-brother. The documentary of the Good Friday killings invites us to walk toward the wounds all around, to wonder at how the Empire’s white supremacy, the struggle to maintain white normativeness, might have shaped deep down some of the hate on that Good Friday.

But the last word is not for today. No word holds the truth of this day, then or now. Today we enter into the world of silent witness. The world of the mothers, the women, the scandalous supporters, maybe their presence was part of the centurion’s conversion too, all those women left behind by the violence who followed Jesus underneath those crosses meant for them too, and who did not turn away from the suffering, but who stayed, who stood nearby, like centurions in their own right, centurions on behalf of a vulnerable God, a silent presence with their bodies, against an Empire breaking bodies, and in whom we see the presence and spark of that spirit that reminds us that although Good Friday keeps happening in so many ways and places, in headlines and heartbreak and horror, so too we keep happening, we keep forming community, coming together, to be silent together, to open up together at the foot of our cross to our own prayerful potential conversion. 

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