Again Peter went out and wept bitterly.
What a difference a week makes. Just days before – during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem – when the Pharisees had challenged Jesus to rebuke his disciples for their “Hosannas” Jesus had replied, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out.”
But that night in the courtyard the stones were silent. There were no hosannas. No palm waving crowds. No “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God.” There was just a cock crow echoing in the silence of betrayal and denial. And Peter weeping bitterly.
Soon they will stand at the foot of the cross where the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly in the Jesus they knew as son, teacher, leader and friend will be extinguished. All that would remain of the rabbi from Nazareth was a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers. The Kingdom he proclaimed had not come. The powerful remained powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed -- and where there had been hope there is only despair.
And yet we call this Friday “Good” -- because even the worst that we can do cannot kill the love of God.
The amazing promise of Good Friday is that even at the foot of the cross … in the midst of the pain and agony and betrayal and denial … the love greater than the worst the world could do to it never wavered … but prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
And they didn’t. Know what they had done … were doing. None of them. Not really. Not the ones who nailed him to the cross. And not the ones who followed him there. Not even the ones who had been the closest to him – who had trudged along with him all over Galilee as he preached and taught and healed and proclaimed the good news of God’s love made present and available for all.
How many times during his earthly ministry did Jesus have to take a time out to explain to his disciples what was going on – to remind them what the “mission statement” was – what the “strategic plan” looked like?
God and love your neighbors as yourself.
On those two hang all the law and the prophets.
“Right, right,” they’d say. “But when are we going to rise up and throw the Romans out? And why can’t we build a booth up on the top of the mountain and hang out with Moses and Elijah? And when we take over, can me and my brother sit on your right hand? Please?
The scriptures are full of examples
of just how much the disciples didn’t “get” what this Jesus of Nazareth was
about. What the kingdom was he came to proclaim was meant to be.
I’ve sometimes wondered if all the times we read about when Jesus “went off to a quiet place to pray” one of his prayers wasn’t, “And could you send me another twelve disciples? These twelve don't seem to be catching on and I’m running out of time!”
Even at the last – on Maundy Thursday when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples as they ate their last meal together in that upper room -- Peter ... the disciple renamed by Jesus as the "rock on which I will build my church" -- protested at the very idea of Jesus washing their feet and Jesus responded: "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
And over 2000 years later we're still on the journey to that understanding.
As we gather on this Good Friday 2021, we gather in the shadow of and ongoing
cycle of Breaking News of how the Good News of the God who loved us enough
to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another continues to be used and misused as a weapon of mass discrimination in our nation; used and misused to inflict trauma rather than to heal trauma; used and misused for oppression rather than for liberation.
We see it over and over and over again as we watch the video footage of violent insurrectionists storming our nation's Capitol screaming hateful rhetoric and carrying the cross of the Lord of Love.
We see it in lawmakers restricting healthcare options for transgender youth based on bad theology rather than good medical science.
We see it in the denial of climate science based on bad biblical studies standing in the way of action needed to save this fragile Earth, our island home.
We see it in the adoption of restrictive voting laws denying the dignity of black and brown voters ... creating a 21st century version of the 1st century parable:
they will ask
“When did we see you thirsty and did not give you water to drink?’”
And the answer will be,
“Standing in line to vote in Georgia.”
The list goes on and on ...
And if we let that use and misuse go unchallenged: If we let the love, justice and compassion of the Gospel be hijacked in the service of hatred, oppression and marginalization then we deny Jesus just as surely as Peter did.
And we fail to be Body of Christ in the world the church is meant to be ... fail
to be part of making that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
A long time ago when I was a young mother my church had a Wednesday night soup and study series during Lent – and I signed up to go … partly because it was Lent and I wanted to do something to deepen my spiritual life and partly because there was child care and I could talk to adults for a couple of hours once a week.
One Wednesday night we had a visiting priest from South India who invited us to think of the Kingdom of God we’ve been called to build here on earth as a massive construction project -- and to think of the scaffolding surrounding it as the church.
“The point of the church is not the church in the same way the point of the scaffolding is not the scaffolding,” he said. “The point of the church is to build the kingdom. And the church gets it wrong is when it spends so much time polishing, preserving and fussing with the scaffolding that it forgets to build the building – forgets to build the kingdom.”
If we're honest, over the last 2000 years the church has not only gotten it wrong by forgetting to build the kingdom -- it has gotten it wrong by joining forces with the empire and instead of building a kingdom of love, justice and compassion has participate in building systems of domination, injustice and oppression.
And every time that happens I imagine Jesus looking at it -- looking at us -- just he looked at Peter in the courtyard. I imagine I can hear off there in the distance the faint but unmistakable sound of a cock crowing. And I remember the words of the prayer Malcolm Boyd taught us to pray:
Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.
Loving religion instead of Jesus has been one of the ways the church has denied
Jesus over and over and over again as surely as Peter denied Jesus in the
courtyard of the high priest as the cock crowed the third time.
To love religion instead of Jesus – to worship Jesus instead of following him – is to choose institutionalization over mobilization – to opt for the safety of becoming an institution rather than risk the invitation to be part of God’s movement – to … in the words of Jim Sanders of blessed memory: “worship the gift rather than the giver” making idols of the outward and visible signs that represent an inward and spiritual grace that transcends any outward and visible sign … even the ones we hold most dearly the ones we revere as the most sacred.
And here at All Saints Church we certainly gotten a master's course on giving those up over this last year. In this time of COVID-19 we have not chosen to love religion instead of Jesus we have chosen to re-imagine religion because of Jesus.
In this time of COVID-19 we have been loving our neighbor by staying away from them by washing our hands, by wearing our masks, by sacrificing our deep desire to gather in person for the sake of the deeper desire to protect the most vulnerable.
The religion we have been claiming is the religion Jesus threw down: “love your neighbor as yourself.” All your neighbors. Not just the ones who live in your zip code or are part of your car pool. Not just the ones who think like you or vote like you or worship like you. Love them enough to stay home to protect them. ALL your neighbors. Every. Single. One.
And on this Good Friday, the religion we claim has nothing whatsoever to do with swallowing morally indefensible theories of an atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God and everything to do with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.
To live those values is to walk what Marcus Borg called “the way of Jesus” a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus … [but] the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”
On this Good Friday 2021 we are still in the midst of that transition and transformation. We are not "there yet" -- but we are at the point in the journey where we see light at the end of the tunnel as we continue to take what our bishop John Taylor has called "incremental steps back to a future yet to be discovered."
And in her wonderful new book “The Church Cracked Open” Canon Stephanie Spellers unpacks that future with these powerful words:
I love the church
the same way Frederick Douglass loved America:
not in spite of its brokenness,
not hiding from its truths,
but taking what is and what could be
and embracing it with deep love
and fierce, unshaken hope.
That’s the kind of love
our church cracked open needs right now.
A love that gets frustrated and angry
but keeps on going.
A love that gets sad and tired
but keeps on hoping.
A love that’s willing to smash our own jars
and let the oil pour,
because we trust God
is creating something
even more beautiful
with these broken pieces.
As we gather today at the foot of the cross, let us pray for the Body of Christ in all its beauty and brokenness. And let us pray that as we take those incremental steps back to a future yet to be discovered we might each be given the grace to love, serve and challenge the church to live up to its high calling to truly be the Body of Christ in our beautiful and broken world.
Holy God, we pray for your Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen