Jesus is Dead
by San Pedro Susan Russell
Jesus is dead.
The life - the promise - the light that shone so brightly has been extinguished. All
that remains of the rabbi from Nazareth is a broken body and the broken dreams of his
scattered followers. The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come. The powerful remain powerful:
the oppressed remain oppressed -- and where there had been hope there is only despair.
This is the stark truth of this day we call "Good Friday."
What is there in that message for us tonight?
Let's be honest: we already know that this is not the end of the story. We gather
tonight for the Liturgy of Good Friday with the Easter dress hanging in our closet; the
flowers ordered; the brunch planned and the candy ready to go in the baskets. We've peeked
at the last chapter to see how the book comes out. We've seen this movie before and know
that there's a happy ending.
One question is: Can we be present in the reality of Good Friday, knowing that Easter
Another question: Why bother? Couldn't we just skip Good Friday? Clearly that's an
option. Look around you: I think I'm safe in saying that there'll be a few more folks with
us on Sunday morning. Folks who go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Day without the
Holy Week stuff. Couldn't we just skip this part -- why dwell on it?
We just heard the story of the crucifixion on Palm Sunday: just like we've heard it
every year. Can we hear it tonight in a way that isn't just "the same old
When my children were tiny, I sang in the choir at St. Paul's in Ventura. Since their
father attended church sporadically, it fell to my friends Bruce and Lori to "pew
sit", and so my boys joined their two girls, Kimmie & Alex during many a service.
I remember one such occasion when from the choir loft, during the reading of the passion,
I looked down and saw all four of them -- intently coloring on the back of their bulletins
-- seeming oblivious to the liturgy surrounding them.
All of a sudden, Kimmie, who was about four, stopped coloring and began to listen to
the unfolding story. She'd been in church since before she was born -- an embryonic
Episcopalian -- and so she'd heard this story many times, even for such a little one. She
could sing "There is a Green Hill Far Away" from memory. She had filled up her
"He is Risen" coloring book. But on this particular day, she was listening like
she'd never heard the story before.
When the gospel got to the words, "because he was already dead", she suddenly
stood up and said (in a loud, horror-filled voice) "Jesus is DEAD? They KILLED
JESUS????" And she started to cry in a way that made it very clear: this story she'd
heard over and over again she had just heard, in some very profound way, for the first
At four years old, she entered into the pain and suffering of the crucifixion event --
and in experiencing that pain herself, was changed by it. And, as she was carried out of
church, inconsolable on her daddy's shoulder, so were we.
I am baffled by how we can hear these stories of Lent and Holy Week and not be changed
by them. Don't we get it? Who was it that was upset by the Lazarus story? Who was repelled
by the teachings of Jesus? Who felt that Jesus was teaching false doctrine? Who wanted
this man to "go away"?
It was the righteous; the orthodox; the people who knew how to do it correctly. It was
the keepers of the Law. It was the people who knew the rules: and knew how to make sure
everyone else kept them. How can we hear this message - this story - and not be confronted
by that? By the sin of self-righteousness in the voices who cried "Hosanna" and
turned so quickly to the crowd which cried "Crucify Him". And crucify him they
did. The crowd got what they asked for.
I don't want to be part of that crowd. I don't want you to be part of that crowd. I
don't want the church to be part of that crowd. But thats the risk we run if we skip
Good Friday. If we fast forward to Easter, we avoid confronting in ourselves our own
self-righteousness, our own certainties, our own fears. We also avoid being transformed by
Robert Shahan, the Bishop of Arizona, addressed precisely these issues in his Palm
Sunday sermon. He said, "I read a line this week in a piece talking about faith and
taking stands. The sentence that stopped me cold was this:
"Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill
Jesus is dead.
He came with a willingness to die for the sake of the message that the Kingdom of God
is at hand. It is here. It is now. He came with a message of inclusiveness and compassion.
Compassion is what Kimmie experienced on that Good Friday: compassion in the truest
sense of the word. The Latin word for passion means "suffering": the combined
form of "compassion" means "with suffering." It is an invitation to
join, to be a part of something requiring sacrifice and often pain. For us, this evening,
it is an invitation to join and be part of the crucifixion story.
Not a very inviting invitation, is it? Not a message that sells any better in San Pedro
than it did in Jerusalem. Like the disciples who fled from the Garden of Gethsemane, we
don't want a dead rabbi: we want a Risen Lord.
The paradox is that it's precisely because we have already experienced the Resurrection
that we can enter into the crucifixion: not just on Good Friday, but wherever and whenever
we face the choice between self-righteousness and compassion.
What we have to offer is a faith to die for: not a dogma to kill for. What we have to
proclaim is a Gospel of that can truly enter into those places of darkness and suffering
where compassion is the only gift we have to give. It is ours to give, as the Body of
Christ, because our Lord went there first. It is ours to give to the Matthew Shepards,
Billy Jack Gaithers and James Byrds of the world. For when we stand with them, we stand
again with Jesus.
It is ours to give when we reach out to the oppressed and the persecuted -- and I am
thinking tonight especially of the horror of the situation in Kosovo. There will be ways
to reach out in the coming days and I know we will respond to them ... our Presiding
Bishops Fund does an awesome job of providing humanitarian aid and for that we give
thanks. But it seems so little, doesnt it, in the face of such terror and
devastation? And yet, when we stand with them, we stand with Jesus.
We are at crucial point in the symphony that is Holy Week. Palm Sunday was our
overture: touching on all the themes to be played throughout the week and leading us into
the subsequent movements. And now weve arrived at Good Friday: in some ways the
adagio of the piece. In the hours between now and the allegro of
Easter, we sit in the silence and contemplate the power of this story that is ours.
Jesus is dead.
May God give us the grace to enter with compassion into the death of Our Lord -- even
as we prepare with Joy to Celebrate His Resurrection. Amen.