Today’s Reading: John 19: 1-6, 14-16
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
14b“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
The metaphor for this Good Friday comes from the African American faith and church tradition and through the specific experience of blacks people in America. It’s not my own tradition but it has profoundly impacted and unveiled actually my own experiences and understanding of God. It’s a powerful metaphor and raw in its imagery, of a very tragic history in America. So, a trigger warning. It comes from the notable black Liberation theologian named, James Cone, who keys in in the understanding of Jesus through the lived, visceral, embodied experience of African Americans, in a book title, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Yes, he says to understand the cross, the crucifixion of Jesus, its purpose and meaning, that there is a more modern form of parallel tool of public humiliation and punishment, often used to send a message to the whole society, a display of power, one that is so similar in their form execution, that you can’t help but make the connection to the history of lynching of blacks in America. Because that is what the cross was back then, a lynching tree.
Here’s what he says:
“During my childhood, I heard a lot about the cross at Macedonia A.M.E Church, where faith in Jesus was defined and celebrated. We sang about “Calvary,” and asked, “Were you there?”, “down at the cross,” “when they crucified my Lord.” “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” The spirituals, gospel songs, and hymns focused on how Jesus achieved salvation for the least through his solidarity with them even unto death. There were more songs, sermons, prayers, and testimonies about the cross than any other theme. The cross was the foundation on which their faith was built.
In the mystery of God’s revelation, black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.”
Many hymns and spirituals spoke to this:
Poor little Jesus boy, made him be born in a manger.
World treated him so mean,
treats me mean too…
Dey whippped Him up an’dey whipped Him down,
Dey whipped dat man all ovah town.
Look-a how how they done muh Lawd.
I was there when they nailed him to the cross,
Oh! How it makes me sadder, sadder,
When I think how they nailed him to the cross.
I was there when they took him down…
Oh! How it makes my spirit tremble,
When I recalls how they took him down.
No wonder the message of the gospel pierced strait through black churches, and the African American experience, into their very lives where the Good News was desperately longed for, Christ’s saving power, clung to, suffering felt in their bones, in their voices, in their shoulders, and hope that better have been true if this is the life they faced, there better have been a greater hope than anything they knew. They identified with Jesus, because Jesus identified with them. Whipped, flogged, slapped in the face, crucified, hung.
The book is rich, because the experience is horrendous, and the metaphor is powerful. Cone goes on to the depth of the tragic history of lynching, what spectacle it was, what it did to the mental emotional state of the blacks, how music and art spoke to realities too dark to put into words. And how real the cross was to them. How it spoke to the wild place they faced. I read it with anxiety and sadness in my heart, praying with grief and lament. How is the cross and the lynching tree at the center of the day called, “Good” Friday? I don’t know.
Jesus delved deep into the human condition. Deep. To the wildest places. To the most vulnerable places. To the most tragic moments. In our most horrible unimaginable places of pain and suffering, God placed Godself in it, God is our co-suffering God. A crucified God. A wild and crazy reckless God that jumps in right into the middle of our greatest agony. That is the kind of God this Jesus reveals today. That is the God we worship. Hosanna Hosanna in the highest. Which is very peculiar phrase of praise and joyful exclamation because it means, save us. A cry of help. A cry. Help! Help! How could such word be joyful? I don’t know.
This is where the Lenten season leaves us today, to a place of unknown. And I don’t want to skip ahead. Easter is coming, and I don’t know sometimes how all this makes sense, the bunnies and the chocolate.
But for now, Let us linger here.
A world where we cry out, help, Jesus, help. Hosanna, Hosanna. Save us! Save us! Believing, or trying to believe, that God hears it and moves towards those who cry out in their wildest places.
As Good Friday arrives tomorrow, take the time to meditate on the unknown place—where there are more questions than answers, and all we can do is cry out to God for the injustices happening in our world.