There are not many Good Friday hymns or songs, but one that always comes to mind is the old favorite, “were you there…” We all know the song, and it asks us if we were there when they crucified my lord. Were we there when they nailed him to the tree? Were we there when they laid him in the tomb? These are all excellent questions, and it leads me to ask the question of all of us here today, would you have been there?
The work of Good Friday is messy, and in the end, an innocent man endured a mock trial on trumped up charges and was publically humiliated and executed and all the while his closest friends were in hiding. Sure, some were there with him, the women were there including his mother, but the men, they were nowhere to be found. They were so afraid that they would be next, they were so fearful that the same fate that fell on Jesus, would claim them, that the hid in fear. When the time to stand up came, they sat down.
So I ask the question again, would you have been there?
In my Palm Sunday sermon, I mentioned that the entrance into Jerusalem was the most politically charged event in the entire three-year ministry of Jesus. Sure, he raised Lazarus from the dead, and that raised some eyebrows. Sure, he threw the money changers out of the temple and said that they, meaning the religious establishment of the day, had turned it from a house of prayer to a den of thieves. But riding into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, being hailed as king was a direct challenge to the might of the Roman Empire, and at that moment the tide turned against him.
The entire ministry of Jesus was one of resistance and revolt. What Jesus did was turn the order of the world upside down and left us with an example to follow. Jesus did not just leave his thoughts and prayers with the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the oppressed; he sat with them, ate with them, and loved them.
“Jesus was executed because he turned the powerful and their systems upside down with his radical inclusion of the “other” and his courageous actions against tyranny.” (Mitch Randal, Good Friday: Thoughts and Prayer didn’t get Jesus executed.)
So before we go any further let’s clear some things up, Jesus did not die so we can exclude people. Jesus did not die so we can use the poor as pawns in a political chess game. Jesus did not die so we can tell others who they can and cannot love. Jesus did not die so we can twist his words to suit our image of him, Jesus died because he practiced radical love and inclusion and so I ask again, would you have been there?
Jesus stood up to the religious and political authorities of his day with direct action. He did not take it to a committee and debate the issues he just did what had to be done. He called out those who were not living up to what they were supposed to do or by what they called themselves, the one’s today I like to call fake Christians, you know them, they are all pious on Sunday but by Sunday night they are back to cheering on tyranny and those who persecute others because of the way they look or where they are from or who they chose to love.
Jesus included everyone and left that example to us as well, radical welcome and inclusion is what it means to be a Christian; however, it has become fashionable to practice radical exclusion in many of our churches today, the message of the Gospel is clear, love God and love your neighbor, and that includes your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, you black neighbor, your poor neighbor, etc. it includes everyone without conditions, Jesus did not just for the white folks Jesus died that everyone might find eternal life and when he said to go into all the world, that is not only the white world but the entire world to bring the love and light of the Gospel.
This is what I mean when I say that Good Friday is messy; it is about a radical change in the way we think and act. If we assume that we would have been there then that means we take on the responsibility of what has been left to us and that is radical welcome, speaking truth to those in authority, and when necessary call out those who call themselves Christians but act is a way that is so counter to what that means there is just no semblance of Christianity left in them.
So I ask you again, would you have been there?
The Book of Revelation is not one of my favorite books, and it has been misused and misunderstood almost from the time it was written but, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from those pages. In the third chapter and the 16th verse we hear this warning, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (NKJ)
Church, the time has come to turn up the heat. The time has come to make a choice, we are either going to stand with Jesus at the cross or we are going to run and hide. The time has come to take a stand, just as Jesus did, and call out those who are using our faith to further their white nationalistic pride and discrimination. The time has come to do what is right not just what is popular. It is time to take back our faith from the extremes that wish to use it for radical exclusion rather than the radical inclusion that Jesus practiced and calls up to practice, why, because if we do not, God will vomit us out of his mouth. Now I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like a nice thing.
Hanging there on that cross, in one of his most human moments Jesus cries out and asks God “why have you forsaken me?” And today I fear that he is asking that question of all of us, why have we forsaken him?
One of my all-time favorite movies is the now classic Braveheart. Now I know that some historical license was taken in the making of that film, and much of the dialogue was created for dramatic effect but, there is one line that fits in with this theme today. The Scottish Army is about to face off against the English for the first time. They are standing on the field of battle, all dressed up, ready to fight. Some of the men start to get nervous and begin to turn and leave and head back to their homes. Then with dramatic music blaring, Mel Gibson rides up and brings hope, hope that they need to face what they must face. He asks them if they will run and hide or stay and fight, and some answer that they will run. He answers with these words:
“Aye, fight, and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”
We have a choice to make, and that choice is to either be at the foot of the cross pointing up and shouting yes, I am with him, and staying and fighting for what is true and just, or we can choose to run and hide where it is safe, the choice is yours.