Today Christians around the world commemorate the death of Jesus on a Friday we so strangely call “good.” Our familiarity with the story of Jesus’s suffering and death tends to domesticate the horrors of the cross. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves: Jesus was the victim of brutal Roman execution by crucifixion, the greatest tool of Caesar’s state-sponsored terrorism.
Many Christians today wear crucifixes around their neck, but it wasn’t always the case. For nearly nine centuries, the Church refused to show Jesus’s cross. And it wasn’t without reason. The Roman cross became a symbol for everything unjust in the world: violence, oppression, hatred, murder, and genocide.
Two millennia later, the Roman regime is long gone, but its instrument of torture remains. Even today, young Arab Christians are being crucified for their faith. And just this past February, 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS in Libya. The deafening silence of the media and of political and cultural leaders in the United States and across the Western world at these atrocities being committed against Christian minorities in the Middle East is unacceptable. We have an obligation to anybody of any faith who is killed simply because they believe.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said it well last year:
When we become complicit in this silence, we become modern-day Pontius Pilates, washing our hands of responsibility and allowing innocent men, women, and children in far-away lands become victims of oppressive tyrants.
These realities aren’t just abroad. Silence at the cross of Jesus reveals itself in our nation, our communities, and our own hearts. Unlike the violence in the Middle East, these crosses are somewhat hidden, but they’re just as deadly.
How many fall victim to the silent cross of institutional violence as our governments, our communities, and our churches again and again fail to address the needs of its people? How many aspiring Americans quietly suffer under the cross of a broken immigration system that scandalizes our nation and denies people their dignity, their families, and their future? And how many of us experience the invisible cross of broken families, poisoned relationships, and of a culture that too often honors swagger and bluster and unknowingly promotes indifference, exclusion, and death?
Acknowledging the cross of Good Friday allows us to admit that something isn’t right in ourselves and in society. When we end our naivety and open our eyes, we will see this truth. Then we can cry with out the Psalmist: “Forgive us, O Lord, for we have sinned!”
Today allows us an occasion to see that every person who suffers and that every person who is lost and broken wears the body of Jesus.
On his death march to Calvary, Roman soldiers enlisted a young African merchant named Simon to help Jesus carry his cross. Initially hesitant, Simon walked with Jesus the entire way to Calvary. Our world today is in need of more Simons, of more men and women who will walk with those who suffer and who will acknowledge their own roles in such suffering. The road Simon took is the road of Jesus, the road of humility and the only road towards the Easter resurrection. The road is uncomfortable, but it isn’t sterile.
We know that God enters into this cosmic drama to redeem all of it. No one is excluded with God’s love in Jesus. In him, we can change, turn around and be converted. And with his cross, our Easter joy can be complete.
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