The Lynching of Jesus and the Silent Christian Indifference

The Rev. Jerrod Lowry, ministry member of the Presbytery of New Hope preached a powerful sermon on Passion Sunday. The whole sermon is on Facebook.

His sermon suggests that we make the crucifixion of Jesus too clean and tolerable and challenges us to view it as a lynching.

Here are some excerpts.

Recognizing our tendency to skip over the events of Good Friday too quickly, the sermon begins: "But it is not Easter yet. And I had to catch myself from racing through the sordid details of the crucifixion and passion that make Easter possible. Friends we literally can’t have a resurrection if we don’t have a death. Even in our Easter songs there is a quick mention of Jesus’ death before we race to the chorus where we can rejoice about the resurrection. But to have a resurrection there must be a death."

The sermon explores what happened on Calvary "Let us try our best to focus on the fact that this man, this innocent man, this the one we call our savior, this the one we call our friend…this man Jesus was killed. . . . Then again if you take a moment to think about it Jesus wasn’t just killed. JFK and Archbishop Oscar Romero were killed, they were both assassinated. Saying Jesus was killed doesn’t begin to describe all that he endured. And I think we’ve cleaned up the image of a crucifixion too much to grasp the total devastation of our savior’s death. . . . To truly reveal the horror of Calvary I think it’s more realistic to say Jesus was lynched. Jesus was tortured, Jesus was whipped and beaten, and then he was hung from a tree. This was a lynching."

If you’ve never seen images and pictures of a lynching, Lowry suggests that we allow the poem Strange Fruit attributed to Abel Merropool to paint a mental picture. 

The sermon then asks "What does this lynching of Jesus mean for those of us who say that we wish follow the path of Christ? What does this lynching say about the measure of faith that will be required from each of us?"

And answers that as followers of Jesus, we are called to speak truth to power and then explores what that means: "First we must know that if we speak truth to power, we are not only following the call of Christ but we are putting ourselves in harm’s way . . . whenever you speak truth to power…whenever you are willing to shed light on dark secrets…whenever you are willing to stand firm against the raging waters of popular opinion…whenever you preach good news to the poor, whenever you proclaim freedom to the prisoners, and whenever you restore sight to the blind, and release the oppressed…there are going to be people shouting 'crucify them.'"

We are called to do as Jesus did, knowing that what happened to Jesus may or will happen to us. "Jesus was a danger to the order and decency that kept hurting people hurting. Jesus was a danger to the order and decency that told sick people they needed to manage the pain instead of seeking health. And if it is your fervent desire to follow Jesus, then you my beloved, must also be a danger to the established order of things. You must speak the truth even in the fear of death. And you must preach truth when no one wants to hear it. And you must teach truth when it takes the world as you know it and turns it upside down on its head . . . People will want to lynch you for the fact that you are stirring up trouble. And if you desire to follow in the footsteps and walk the path of Christ then you must learn how to live and endure when it seems everyone is against you. For this is what we have been called into this ministry to do. And it will be tempting to just sit down and shut up for the sake of an unjust peace. But we are not called to make friends. We are called to speak truth to power even at the risk of our own lives. And for speaking truth the crowd shouted 'crucify him.' For preaching truth the crowd chose a murderer named Barabbas. And for teaching truth, Jesus Christ, a man found innocent, was lynched."

The sermon then turns to the silent indifference of Christians. "Friends, while the ordeal of the trial, the beatings, the torture, and finally the lynching were certainly overwhelming, imagine now having to do this alone. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus endures the entire Passion by himself. Family it is bad enough when you have to endure life’s sufferings and the only thing that can make things worse is when you have to endure them alone! All the support and the comfort he had given to people during his ministry and now at his hour of need when it seems everyone in town had turned against him…and the faithful were no where to be found. When the entire town was shouting “crucify him” the faithful where no where to be found. When they were beating him, spitting on him, threatening him…the faithful where no where to be found. When Jesus was lynched we the faithful were watching from a distance. And this would definitely not be the last time that we the faithful followers of Jesus Christ would take our stand upon the wall of shame acting like we can’t see anything or hear anything or say anything when the crowd turns its ignorance and cowardly anger against someone."

It happened to Dr. King. And Dr. King responded with the Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he responded to white clergy who, while acknowledging the existence of social injustice, considered King's nonviolent direct action untimely and unwise.

The sermon notes that  is not the only time when Christians have stood silent. It has happened often, as recently as the past few weeks. Faced with reports of lawmakers receiving death threats and being spat upon and having bricks thrown through windows and receiving faxes bearing nooses, the Body of Christ has remained silent. And I have been among those who have been silent.

The sermon asks: "Where were the voices of the moral majority? Where are the voices of the clergy who provide scriptural support for political agendas they advocate? Where are those faithful Christians who fight for the lives of the unborn? Did they lift their angry voices in defense of those already born and threatened with death? Where were the voices of those want to fight for the liberty and livelihood of Iraq? Did they lift their voices in defense of the liberty and livelihood of their fellow Americans? Where is the church? Where are you? Where is your anger and frustration? Where is your voice?"

The sermon poses a challenge: "The time for watching and waiting is over. We must figure out when, where, and to whom we must lift our voices so that no one may suffer alone as did our savior. And after church we will talk about one such path to make our voices heard. But we must speak up and we must speak out!"

The sermon proclaims the promise: "Sisters and Brothers I am here to tell you that Jesus our savior and our friend was lynched. And the faithful silently stood bye and watched. But like our Easter songs, what begins with death and tears and bloodshed, ends in triumphant rejoicing. And here lies the message of hope even as we carry our own cross towards our own Calvary… Even though we get beat down and threatened for speaking truth….and even though our own friends and loved ones may turn their backs on us to pursue easier and popular paths…never forget there is always an Easter morning. There can be no Easter morning if there is no Calvary lynching. The psalmist said “those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy and those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with them”.

And closes with a prayer: "May this memory inspire us to stand with the oppressed and lift our voices to speak defiant truth despite the threats that will come our way with the faithful assurance that this path toward Calvary will reap the joy of Easter’s sunrise."

May it be so. May I have ears to hear – and courage, grace, and faith to respond.

Thanks to the the Rev. Jerrod Lowry of the Presbytery of New Hope for preaching this sermon and allowing this post.

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