We have been killing Jesus for a very long time.
His name has been: Trayvon Martin. James Craig Anderson. Tyler Clementi. Amadou Diallo. Matthew Shepard. James Byrd. Yusuf Hawkins. Emmett Till. And many others.
We have been killing Jesus for a very long time, because he dares to pull aside the veil, the shroud we wrap around ourselves, to see the living death within. We kill Jesus because he is strong enough to look, to see truly – and we are not. So he has to die. Because he is a troublemaker in a hoodie who shows up where you do not expect to see him, armed only with food and drink and words and his vulnerable body.
And so we say:
You are not welcome here. Go away.
You make me uncomfortable.
I do not want your mirror.
I do not want your words.
I would like to stay as I am.
And when he will not listen, when he continues walking and will not simplify our world by absenting himself, we resolve to put an end to it. He will not be ignored, and so he must be removed, in the most expedient manner possible. So if what we have is a gun, a firebomb, cudgels or fists or a cross, that is what we use.
You may say, I didn’t do it. It was them, over there. That other one, over there. Those people, so many years ago. It is not still happening. And you would be right, partially. And wrong, mostly.
We have been killing Jesus for a very long time. Jesus is gay, straight, male, female, trans, bi, brown-skinned, white-skinned, mixed-race, out-of-place and altogether a profound threat to our safety. What shall we do? Ignore, avoid, destroy.
It has been written. There was a setting down of weapons once – do we not remember? “I have set my bow in the clouds,” a covenant with all living things. There was a promise to the generations – do we not remember? A covenant in human flesh, a cut, a bleeding, a birth. “I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” There was instruction on how to live in community – do we not remember? “Love God with all your heart and all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet there is a multiplicity of gods, shaped by our fears and anxieties and thank-god-it’s-not-me’s.
And so the covenant comes even closer. Written on our hearts, it should be unmistakeable. “It is mine.” All life. All flesh. All relationship. All knowledge. All.
But it is a little too close. And so we arm ourselves with a shroud, a cross, a painful crown, to put Christ at a distance. “There,” we say. It is an unusual circumstance. Isn’t it terrible when these things happen? We put it at a distance. We forget. Until the next Jesus dies.
We are still learning. That promised day has not yet arrived, because the words are not yet written on our hearts. Jesus keeps showing up and we keep putting him off. He walks toward the cross, and rather than follow, we fall back, and fall away.
Do not turn away. God has made a holy promise, an everlasting covenant, written in flesh and as close as your own beating heart. Let the knowledge of the Lord fill you. Let it fill you with sorrow for the dying of Trayvon, and Tyler, and Amadou, and Matthew, and James, and Yusuf and Emmett.
Let it fill you with the knowledge of your part in this drama. By and large, we are the crucifiers. We are the ones who let other bodies go to the cross for us, over and over again, because we will not walk there ourselves. We are party to the corruption that lets an accused murderer avoid arrest because the victim’s skin was brown. We are party to a system in which pre-emptive violence is the preferred solution.
“Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me,” wrote the Psalmist. We have sinned in thought, word and deed; in what we have done, and what we have left undone. Our part in the new covenant still awaits us. God would have us live in community. To treat each one as a sister or brother. To not have to be re-taught the way of love.
We have claimed the privilege of forgetfulness, so that each occasion of cross-shaped violence seems to be new. So we can kill Jesus over and over again. Let the knowledge of the Lord be written on your heart, and fill you with remembering, so the next time we kill Jesus, you recognize what is happening.
Holy Week is approaching. There will be a triumphal parade and there will be stirring emotions. There will be a sense that the day has come. And then, we will see our Christ. He will do the things we do not expect. He will speak confusing words. He will invite us to share life and death with him, in the bread and the cup. He will invite us to be present with him, to watch and pray. He will command us to set aside violence. Pain and sorrow will be raised up before us and he will command us to be mother, father, brother, sister to one another.
Do we not remember? We have been killing Jesus for a very long time. He dares to look beyond our gates, beyond the shroud of secrecy and forgetting. His presence makes us uncomfortable. The knowledge of the Lord indicts us, and we pick up our weapons.
But Jesus continues to walk – not run. The gates will not stop him. This is where he belongs. He will enter the city; he will practice the way of love as far as it leads. He dares us to bear witness in the privileged courtyards and in the place of death. He dares us to look at the crown, the cross, the wounded body. He invites us to remember.
Let it be written on your heart.
Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34