Texts: Luke 23: 32-43; Colossians 1: 9-14

Chances are, for many of us, the timing feels all wrong to be hearing this passage from Luke’s Gospel with its scene of the crucifixion, for Good Friday is still months away … the day we’re used to hearing this story. As it turns out it’s the Lectionary (that pre-set schedule of texts) that gives us this reading for today for reasons we may or may not get to in the space of this time for our reflection … but just to say, in many churches around the world today this is the passage that comes to meet us. And as it turns out, far from all wrong, I’m thinking the timing couldn’t be better.

What we have in this story is Jesus with his back against the wall … Jesus at the mercy of the Roman machine where not only is there is no mercy, but full-on brutal measures to destroy him.

Even as we sit here this morning I imagine hell is being rained down on Eastern Aleppo for the 6th straight day with unbelievable brutality and disregard for human life. Added to that is the unleashing of hatred and violence since the US election, and the frightening announcements each day of the people who are being appointed to these powerful governing positions … and the potentially horrific implications for the whole world. And that’s just to name two of the many scenarios boiling right now where people in power are wielding inhuman levels of violence.

Throughout the year we’re far more used to hearing stories of Jesus before everything went terribly wrong and after everything went terribly wrong. We so seldom come to this story where Jesus is right in the very thick of everything going so terribly wrong. But today this is the story we are given … which is precisely the story we need. We need a story that speaks to us in this time that we are in … when violence is on the rise … not just random violence but violence that is condoned even directed by those in power. We need a story to guide us … even more than a story, we need some One to show us how to be in such a time as this.
“You show us, you show us, you show us the way …
You are holy … you show us the way!” [1] 

So what is this way that we are given to see as we attend the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion?
Here’s what I’m seeing.
Before he ever got to this moment, Jesus found himself moving toward it. There were any number of opportunities for him to turn back, turn away. And he chose not to. He refused to abandon the way of love, the way of justice, the way of mercy, knowing full well it would come to this terrible day. He was not naïve about the consequences.

And in the face of it all -- all the fear, the humiliation, the degradation, the torture -- he refuses to use or incite violence.   All his energy, it seems, goes into maintaining his integrity. What we’re seeing is Jesus refusing to lose his humanity, enduring this frightful domination without betraying his soul.
In fact what we’re seeing is him becoming more not less … more present, more loving, more understanding, more assuring, more trusting …
“Father forgive them, for do not know what they are doing.
"Today," he says to the tortured man beside him, “you will be with me in paradise.”

For all their power to destroy his body, they did not capture his soul.
What we’re seeing is that there is a way … there is a way that he is showing us … and more than simply the way, there is-- somehow-- his presence. For that too is finally part of this story. That too is the reason we even have this story and know his name … and dare to shape our lives and our hopes in light of him.

He did not hate. He even opened his heart more fully.
And for as long as he could bear, he entrusted his life to God …
and God did not fail him.
And that my friends is the staggering good news even and especially in these times.

A few days ago I heard this interview -- maybe you heard it too -- with the priest of St David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana. She, with her congregation, showed up for worship last Sunday to find their building defaced -- swastika painted on the wall, with heil Trump, and some anti-gay slur. Of course they were pretty sobered by it …and there was fear too that this venom had sought them out. Their initial instinct was to get rid of the graffiti. But then something else started to stir. They found themselves becoming even more convinced, even more grounded in their open hearted, justice seeking stance. Together they made the decision to leave the graffiti there for a while … in a way it’s an act of not running or hiding in fear … but a kind of backhanded way of publicly declaring their stance and solidarity with those whose backs are right now against the wall. Together they made the decision not to let their soul be captured … not to hide their light.

This is our work as Jesus’ people -- people who are being shown the way: to trust the Giver of Life in the darkness; to trust that buried, hidden deep, in the terrible moment is a tenacious love.
Our work is to receive that love that is given … that love that God freely pours into our hearts.
Now --more than ever-- the world needs our love and justice and mercy. It needs our courage.
It needs for us to be the crucified and risen body of Christ.
It needs for us to proactively reach out to one another, to connect with one another, connect with strangers.

The world needs us to remember that we too have power …
that we can choose --
we can refuse to give into despair;
we can refuse the way of violence;
we can refuse the way of hatred;
we can refuse to let our souls be captured.
We can choose to reach out … to build communities of non-violent resistance … to offer solidarity …
We can choose to be people of Jesus’ way
for the Beloved walks with us, even through this --even through this-- to draw us into paths of resurrection.

“You are holy -- you show us the way …
You show us, you show us, you show us the way.” [2]


[1] [2] Traditional song, South Africa; found in More Voices Hymn Book; United Church Publishing House, Toronto and Wood Lake Publishing Inc., Kelowna, 2007