On April 15, 2022 I gave the reflections at the annual Good Friday Walk put on by the downtown association and the eucumenical council in St. Catharines. It was not recorded, but these are, as close as I can reproduce them, my remarks. We started at one end of Church St. and stopped at churches along the way, six churches in all. At each church a member would read the text and then I gave brief remarks followed by a song performed by the husband and wife duo Infinitely More.
Royal House: Matthew 26:31-46
The illusion of personal power.
I begin with an introduction, my father and his family, Oibwe people rooted in north-western Ontario. My mother’s family, German and Ukrainian who came here after the violence of Stalin, the violence of the war, and found safety in a place that made my father’s family unsafe. I begin there because that shapes how I understand the events of these chapters, the actions of those involved.
The question before us is the question posed by James Cone in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. What are we to make of the brutality of Rome and the cruelty of [Canada]? Of their striking similarities. Of the silence of progressive Christians. We gather together in these scenes, but we are not the same.
Who was it who stood at the lynching trees?
Jesus had previously told the disciples that he would die and Peter said no! Jesus responded with, get behind me Satan. So we hear Peter’s belief that he would stand firm in the context of his earlier no. He understood now, or thought he did. Jesus was the messiah, and the messiah would die.
And we too who are violently pushed to the margins believe that we can stand firm in the face of power and the violence of the state. We believe that we can meet that power because that belief is hope, and without hope we are lost.
St George’s Anglican: Matthew 26:47-56
Living in the presence of oppressive power
Friend, do what you came for.
Crucifixion was to Rome what lynching is to America. There are two recorded lynchings in Canada. A 14 year old Sto:lo youth in BC in 1884 and a second in Perth Ontario 1910. Crucifixion, like lynching, controlled through fear. Just as policing controls through fear. And those who are racially marginalized in Canada could see what was happening in the US. Lynching, and the fear of lynching, controlled us here too. White Christians can believe themselves safe in such a country, but the racially marginalized know we are not.
Individually, self defence in the face of such power is suicide. Collectively the Jews had been able to confront Pilate. By the hundreds they had laid down before him, daring him to kill them and he backed down. But a later protest, just a few years before these events we are discussing, was met with violence. With swords and clubs. The memories of this violence would have been on their minds. Jesus asked them, do you come at me with swords and clubs?
They did not come for him in the temple when there were large numbers with him. They came for him when he was alone, isolated. And they came against him in large numbers to prevent the resistance of a few years earlier.
Friend, do what you came for.
People counsel non-violence. In the face of state violence, self-defence is suicide and so we choose non-violence. We are told not to provoke them, not to give them a reason to hate us. They elevate Martin Luther King as a model of non-violence. But they killed him anyway.
They kill us anyway.
Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Alexandria Matthew 26:57-68
Becoming subverted by the power of the state
We don’t talk about power in these stories, and we need to. Because we hear things like High Priest or religious leaders and we think of the Pope or the Queen who is the head of the Church of England. We think of Billy Graham or Joel Osteen and others who wield financial and political power. But this was a people living beneath Roman occupation, and as Zora Neale Hurston has said; not all skinfolk are kinfolk. The Lakota killed Custer, but he had Crow scouts. Oppressed people want to survive.
The High Priest was appointed by Pilate.
Even so, even so with their allegiance to power they are not the villains. They have no power. Influence perhaps over their own community but influence is not power. And the racially marginalized who align with power eventually learn that power will cast us aside.
Friends, you who are violently pushed to the margins. Rome will use you, but it does not love you.
Knox Presbyterian Matthew 27:69-75
The power of individuals to shame us
That could have been me.
The lynching of Emmet Till galvanized the civil rights movement. People like John Lewis, who was a teenager then but would become a representative in the US Federal government, looked at what happened to Emmet and said that could have been me. I learned of the murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas Manitoba and I realized, that could have been me. Sexually assaulted and killed because of what I represented. I have stood on the steps of City Hall, across the street from us today, talking about Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine and the children found in unmarked graves and I know that could have been me.
Peter watched his rabbi get arrested. He had reacted rashly, cutting off the ear of a soldier and Jesus healed him. But now, alone in the firelight he had to be thinking, that could have been me. Under questioning we retreat, we feel shame. We may be brave in the moment, but in the quiet and the firelight we realize that could have been me.
And we are afraid.
Queen St. Baptist Church Matthew 27:11-30
The power of the state to destroy us
Who killed Jesus?
Was it the Jews who called for his crucifixion? Who demanded the release of Barabbas?
We can’t ignore that it is in the text.
We can’t make it about all of us, we all did this. That erases the Jews who are in the text.
We can’t assume Matthew’s audience or intentions.
So what do we do this this question?
We acknowledge what came from it.
The pogroms and expulsions.
Vandalism of synagogues
Who killed Jesus?
Who kills Black and Indigenous people?
Rome. Rome kills us and finds a way to blame the ones it oppresses.
Which brings us to the question that racially marginalized Christians wrestle with. We who claim the same Jesus as those who lynch. As those who controlled residential schools. As those who tear down our sacred spaces. We claim the same faith, the same Jesus. And so how do we understand the silence of white Christians?
I use the language of white and racially marginalized, not because I want you to feel guilty, uncomfortable perhaps but not guilty. You are part of a system and systems can be challenged, can be confronted, can be dismantled. You must not be silent.
Who killed Jesus?
St Thomas Anglican Church Matthew 27:31-54
The power of earth’s grief to awaken us
We have talked about power. The illusion of personal power, living in the face of oppressive power, being subverted by the power of the state, the power of individuals to shame us, and the power of the state to destroy us. Now we turn our thoughts to the power of the earth’s grief to awaken us.
In the ancient world mourners covered themselves in dust and they grieved. Today we see droughts and water where it is unhelpful. The earth mourns and grieves because of the actions of Rome, because of human perfidity.
Who gathered at the foot of the cross?
Who gathered at the lynching tree?
Who gathers in courtrooms where justice is denied?
Somehow this moment brings us together and the world will indeed cry out and release the things we leave unsaid.
Crucifixion was a common punishment. A warning to those who lack power, a warning to those the state wishes to control. And who are the crucified today: those who fill prisons, who are trapped in poverty, who are on death row, who are shot by police.
White Christians cannot separate themselves from this history. They cannot ignore it. Cannot imagine that everyone else does it. You must acknowledge what it comes from.
The oppressed and the oppressor come together at the foot of the tree and liberation is found in confronting the ongoing sin of white supremacy, in transforming the power of Rome.
Because if you do not the rocks themselves will cry out. The earth will shake and those who have fallen beneath the white Christian church will rise again.