I often get frustrated, if not downright angry, when I read the signs outside churches. One here in town recently read: “Jesus died to offer the gift of salvation… have you accepted it yet?”
The worst part of this message is the suggestion that God asks for, maybe even demands, a human death to make right again the relationship between humans and God, to “offer us the gift of salvation,” “to save us” from our sins and make us fit for heaven.
And there is a stipulation. Not only did Jesus HAVE to die, but we humans have to ACCEPT that he died to save us from our sins in order for it to work. Really?
The other piece of this that really fries my bacon… is that if you read any history of the time, you know that insurrectionists, seditionists, and rebels against the government were the ones who were sentenced to crucifixion. Thousands of them. The only reason Jesus would have been crucified was because he was a threat to the Roman regime. If it had just been blasphemy against God, then the Jews would have simply stoned him to death like they did to the disciple Stephen in Acts 7.
Jesus was a good guy, a compassionate guy. He broke the rules that seemed unfair or unreasonable. He cared about the poor, the outcast, the lost. He had little patience with the BS from the temple hierarchy who cared more about their money and standing than they did the people. He treated women with respect. And so much more.
So, here’s this good guy taking on two giant institutional systems – Rome and the Temple – to try to make life better for his people because his belief or relationship with God meant he could not divorce himself from what was happening in the world and to the people around him. Because we see the manifestation of the Divine in his actions we, and the people who lined the streets on Palm Sunday, believed he had God on his side. But they killed him. On this day some two thousand-ish years ago the world and its systems of greed and power won.
And we mourn. Not just the loss of a prophet, revolutionary, visionary, and amazing human being. We mourn the loss of hope for the people – hope for a fair system of governance, hope for more inclusion and equality in life and in religion, hope for a religion filled not just with rules to follow, but spiritual sustenance and a connection to the Divine within.
The other thing we mourn is that this cycle continues to happen. Over and over again in history we watch the world win. We see the systems of power and greed trounce on the underdog, the different, the marginalized, the lower economic brackets. Over and over we’ve seen people of faith and people of compassion imprisoned and killed for living their faith and their convictions, and standing prophetically against the powers that be.
The world won the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
The world won the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
The world won when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
The world won when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were arrested.
The world won when Harvey Milk was killed.
The world won when Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated.
As I started to look into this a bit more, I discovered that the” crucified” people are still there, in great numbers. Sometimes we see them on TV, but in reality they don’t get much attention. I’m sad to say I was shocked at the number of people who have been killed recently for their advocacy for civil rights and the environment. People we never hear about.
- According to Global Witness, between 2002 and 2013 an incredible 908 people in 35 countries were murdered for trying to defend the environment.
- A record number of 200 environmental activists were killed in 2016 while protesting against companies’ mining, logging and agribusiness activities, a report by Global Witness has found.
- The Association for Women’s Rights in Development has compiled a list of over 350 women human rights defenders in over 80 countries who have been killed since 2012 because they stood up for a multitude of causes. They were community leaders, journalists, mothers and victims who spoke out for land rights for people, for women’s rights, to save the environment, against human trafficking, for LGBT rights, against huge scale mining and so much more.
And I’m sure there are many more.
Over and over again the world has won.
And we mourn, because with each death a beautiful human being, with a beautiful vision for our world dies.
We mourn tonight for Jesus, for his disciples, for their pain and lost hopes and vision.
We mourn tonight for all the prophets, leaders, and visionaries who have been silenced by violence.
We mourn for everything our world has lost in the name of money and power and religion.
And we ask ourselves… where will we choose to stand? Will we risk to stand for love? Will we risk to stand for peace? Will we risk to stand for life, in all its variety and diversity?