A blog post by Rev. Yvette Schock
Every year on Good Friday, Christians gather to hear a story that showcases some of the worst of human behavior, individually and collectively. We see Judas sneaking around and conniving to deliver Jesus, his friend and teacher to the authorities who, he knows, want to get rid of Jesus; Peter, who, for all his bravado in drawing his sword in the dramatic scene at Gethsemane, denies he even knows Jesus when the stakes get too high; and the religious leaders, so desperate to keep some kind of peace, they’re willing to manipulate witnesses and evidence to get the conviction they want. We see Pontius Pilate, a slave to political expediency and perhaps his own ambition, and the foot-soldiers of the Roman Empire, demonstrating human ingenuity in torturing those deemed dangerous. And then there’s the crowd of regular folks, people like you and me, standing around to watch the whole show, fearful, excited, willing to play their parts when called upon by this or that authority, so easily caught up in the momentum of the moment, the crowds. And then, too, there is in the story all the detail of Jesus’ suffering—the innocent man convicted, the accused insurgent tortured and humiliated, a broken man crying in thirst and pain.
Some might wonder why we insist on hearing this story again and again, every Good Friday. The stories of the Resurrection, stories of Jesus’ disciples enlivened by the presence of the Risen Christ, touched and moved by the spirit of God to live together, share what they had in common, and minister to the sick and the poor in their communities—these stories one can understand telling again and again. The crucifixion—it’s just not a pretty story. So why is it so important for us to study it, hear it and share it as much as we hear and proclaim those resurrection stories?
Every year on Good Friday I’m reminded of the story of Emmett Till. Emmett was a 14-year old black boy from Chicago who, in 1955, went to Mississippi to visit family. One day he supposedly looked at a white woman the wrong way, and that night three grown men dragged Emmett from his uncle’s cabin, beat him to death and threw his body in the river. Emmett’s body was found four days after he was murdered, and was shipped back to his hometown to be buried. When Emmett Till’s mama first saw the broken body of her son, she said, “Where is his ear?…Where is his eye?” She wept to see it, her son’s body disfigured beyond recognition, but she insisted that his casket be open for the funeral. “Let people see what’s happened,” she said. She knew Emmett’s body told a certain truth about the real consequences of racism and segregation in a way that nothing else could. People lined up around the block from the church to visit Emmett Till’s broken body, and their witness to his death became a powerful catalyst for action in the early days of the civil rights movement.
When we gather each Good Friday to hear again the story of Christ’s suffering and death, we are like all those people who went to visit Emmett’s body; we gather to witness, to confront the truth about human sin written on Jesus’ body. The story about Jesus’ last hours, its central place in the gospels, the ancient tradition of gathering to hear the story in the days before Easter, reveals in our Christian faith the unavoidable call to us to look with clear eyes and to mourn not only the human brokenness and suffering carried on Jesus’ body 2000 years ago, but the brokenness and suffering born by so many of God’s children in our world today, and our own shortcomings in following Jesus, our own bad behavior.
This year as I hear the story of Jesus’ suffering, I’ll be thinking about our immigrant brothers and sisters. I will remember in prayer Arles, a friend in New York, and others who face the choice to stay with their families and watch them starve, or to live far from them in order to provide for them; the families of migrants who die in the desert trying to cross the US-Mexico border; the families of Nery Romero, Boubacar Bah and other detainees who have died in immigration detention; those who are separated from their families in the U.S. due to a broken immigration system that is unjust and dysfunctional; and immigrant children who will live in fear.
On Good Friday we gather to hear again the story of Christ’s suffering, and we must also hear the stories of our immigrant neighbors, because we cannot be credible witnesses to the hope of resurrection if we are not able to see and know the brokenness in us and in our world that cries out for God’s power for new life.
God’s response to the brokenness of our world was the Incarnation; God’s response was to enter into the world and take on the full range of human experience, to pour out love from the midst of it, and to carry all of it to the cross, and beyond.
We know that the power of the One who passed through death into new life is still at work in our world today. We hear this story today, and we remember in prayer the suffering of those who are tortured and hungry and marginalized in our world today, knowing that God promises that what is, is not all that will be. We gather today around the cross, knowing it is not only a place of suffering, but ultimately points to the promise of resurrection, and it is that hope in God’s power to bring new life which strengthens us to open our eyes and to respond to what our eyes see with our hearts and hands and our whole lives.