For those of us who identify as Christian, the observance of Good Friday services is a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. A time-honored tradition during this most somber of days in our church calendar is the reading of the Passion account from one of the gospels during this service. I have participated in this presentation in various forms for all of my life; yet, I felt that this one was taking on a deeper meaning for me – especially at yesterday’s service which I attended. It could be best encapsulated by my really taking notice of how some individuals and institutions (religious and civic) throughout history have inflicted the utmost cruelty and agony on people with whom they disagreed and posed a threat to their status and power. Quite often, the victims are those who have spoken prophetically and proclaimed messages of peace and justice. These gospel accounts certainly describe the worst of both religious and civic leaders, and this realization jumped out in front of me as though I had heard these words for the first time. They especially yanked at my emotions since such abuses still continue in our world.
“Where is God now?”, boomed the impassioned voice of the presider during the homily of the service. He was quoting someone from the well-known true story written by Elie Weisel about his days as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In the gruesome scene, a young boy was being hanged by the prison guards and the inmates were forced to observe the execution. Taking a relatively lengthy time to die from suffocation due to his light weight, he struggled for breath, his tongue was protruded, and his face turned blue. The anguished question came from someone within the crowd, and the response from someone else was, “He is hanging at the end of the rope.” Our gifted homilist then began to remind us that Jesus, who is love personified – God with us – became human in order to become one of us – to enter into humanity’s suffering – to walk with us.
Thus, who are the suffering in our midst today with whom this Jesus suffers? Our presider listed several:
• Families who are being torn apart in our country due to arrests and deportations of parents who are undocumented.
• Refugees from a number of countries who are mistreated by and dying at the hands of cruel people from their own country, the often-dangerous voyages they must make to find safety.
• Children who are being bullied at school.
As he shared these thoughts, my emotions were deepened, and tears began to sting my eyes.
What happened next, though, caused the tears to flow. As we processed forward to kiss the feet of the corpus on the large crucifix, I imagined examples of the above-mentioned people actually lying on the cross in agony. They also included AIDS/HIV patients whose emaciated bodies are wracked with misery and often die alone because of family rejection; the iconic news image of the body of the toddler from a Middle Eastern country which was washed ashore on a European beach after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as he and his family were escaping his war-torn country; images of loved ones for which many of us take care due to serious illnesses; women who are sexually abused and suffer other forms of mistreatment within a patriarchal society; and people who are members of sexual minorities (LGBTQ/gender non-conforming) who are often disowned by family members, lose their jobs, abused and killed, and thrown out of their church communities because they are trying to live their lives authentically.
If those of us who profess to be Christians believe that we are all members of the Body of Christ, then shouldn’t we recognize that when we venerate the broken Body of Jesus the Christ, we are also venerating all those in our midst who suffer? Then, what should be the consequences of this acknowledgement? How willing are we to “kiss their feet” and to embrace them as bona-fide members of the human community, treating them with dignity? Will these actions build a peaceful world?