Sermon; Good Friday 2021
Today we participated in both the Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross, as well as the reading of the Passion Gospel.
For years there has been an ecumenical Prayer Walk in Hagerstown during the noon hour with various stopping points and reflections. Like last year, it is again being done virtually or individually, with Dcn. Sue offering a mediation for one of the stops. When I was in Montana I instituted a city-wide Stations of the Cross which stopped at 14 locations around town and involved people from several different churches. When Joelene and I were in Prague I saw a very large monument which I later learned was one of the Stations of the Cross that were scattered throughout that city. This solemn procession is done all over the world in a variety of ways, including here at Saint John's. Traditionally that journey takes us from Jesus' condemnation to his burial, with several stops in-between.
The Way of the Cross is most often walked from station to station. This, as the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer says, “is meet and right so to do.” We say it is meet and right so to do because in this way we follow in the steps of our Lord and Savior. But what does it mean to follow in his footsteps, or to walk the Way of the Cross?
The Collect for both Monday in Holy Week and at the doors of the church following the procession of palms reads in part, “Almighty God whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified . . .” reminds us that walking the Way of the Cross is painful. It reminds us that we can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday. Walking the Way of the Cross reminds us that there is a world full of suffering, hate, and death. But it can also remind us that there are moments of compassion and hope.
Walking this path also does something else: it slows us down. We have a general tendency to move fast. We want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. When traveling, we generally look for the most direct and quickest route. That's why we jump on the Interstate. But by doing that we miss those slow blue roads of Charles Kuralt.
Because of this tendency to move quickly, we are also often advised to slow down on a regular basis. Doctors tell patients to slow down for health reasons. We are told to take time to stop and smell the roses. And Ferris Bueller told us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
Walking the Way of the Cross makes us slow down. Walking the Way of the Cross allows us to see things we might not have seen had we been speeding on our way.
As we walk the Way of the Cross we can see people struggling with their burdens. We can step in and offer to help carry those burdens. Simon of Cyrene carried the burden of the cross for Jesus. Had he been galloping by on a horse instead of walking along the road, this wouldn't have happened. As we walk, we can learn to walk with people, get to know them, and offer comfort to them when needed – like the woman who wiped the face of Jesus as he struggled on his way to Golgotha. As we walk the Way of the Cross, hopefully we can begin to see people, meet them where they are, and reflect God's love.
When we see people, we are given the opportunity to serve them. We can take time to see their needs and offer assistance. From seeing the person who needs a meal or clothing or assistance in finding a job, to seeing children who need tutors and adult role models. Walking the Way of the Cross opens us up to serving others.
But serving others, while sounding nice and worthy of doing, also comes with its own set of complications. Working to feed, clothe, and shelter people is one thing. Doing that in the face of public resistance is quite another. There are too many people who see helping those in need as enabling those who are lazy or who are a societal parasite. Too many people say, “Get a job,” while not enough people offer jobs. And yes, it's all complicated. But walking with people will lead to greater possibilities than speeding past them.
Among other things, it was Jesus' insistence that the outcasts of society – the sick, the mentally challenged, the poor, the hungry – be treated with dignity and respect that got him in trouble with the religious and political leaders of the day. This good news of the kingdom of God was seen as very much bad news for the empire. It still is.
By walking in Jesus' footsteps, by walking the Way of the Cross, we are able to slow down. We are able to slow down and meet those in need where they are. We are able to slow down and offer assistance. We are able to slow down and tell the story of the Good News.
None of this is easy. It's hard work offering ourselves and our resources to those who need it. It's hard work telling the story of the Good News to people. It's hard work confronting our own weaknesses and prejudices. It's hard work seeing our abundance not as something we might lose but as something we can share.
I think it is this very commitment to slowing down, to seeing others, to opening ourselves up to serving as Jesus served, to walking the Way of the Cross, that Jesus was referring to when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.”
You see, it's easy for us to speed by in our busy lives and assume that the person on the street is lazy or a parasite using government subsidies to avoid working. It's easy for us to speed by in our sheltered lives and assume that the person being detained did something to deserve it. It's easy for us to speed by in our privileged lives and think somewhere in the back of our minds that people must have done something wrong, therefore they deserve the mistreatment they are receiving. And that can happen so fast. I think of the Ohio State basketball player who at one moment was lauded for his skill and the next he was receiving death threats because he had a bad game in the NCAA tournament.
For all intents and purposes, we just did that. We got caught up in the speed of events. We got swept away with the tide. We allowed others to create the narrative of a person arrested and executed by the authorities. We were more than willing to sing the praises of this man one day, and the next cry out for his crucifixion.
This one is on us.
If the last year taught us anything, may it have taught us to slow down and enter more deeply into relationships of all kinds. If today teaches us anything, may it teach us that walking the Way of the Cross is the path to life and salvation. If we learn anything from today, let us learn that, not listening to others, not seeing people as people, not taking the time to be open to serving others, not slowing down, can have deadly consequences.
On this day when we remember the speed with which Jesus was arrested, condemned, betrayed, and killed, we must also remember those who were killed because people refused to listen, to not see them as people, to not be willing to serve them, to not slowing down. People like John Elliot Neville, William Howard Green, Mannie Ellis, Breonna Taylor, Daniel T. Prude, Michael Ramos, Sean Reed, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, AJ Crooms, Patrick Warren, Sr., Tamir Rice, and too many others.
The Way of the Cross shouldn't just be a liturgy we participate in once a year. The Way of the Cross should be a daily reminder of the suffering and death many people face in the here and now.
May we learn to slow down, walk the Way of the Cross daily, and open our eyes to the world around us.