Dear siblings in Jesus Christ, As ever, we have so much to pray for…
But this week, I invite you to do something a little odd with me: Will you pray with me for Jesus, too?
In this week in which we remember his most agonizing moments, his trauma, his desolation, his execution as a common criminal, let’s pray for him, as he prays and works unceasingly for us.
Friends, let us pray.
For those unjustly blamed across time and space:
for Jesus, accused and sentenced to death by the powers who feared his revolutionary Kin(g)dom;
for our Jewish neighbors, wrongly punished across the centuries for Christ’s death and for many other crimes of which they are innocent;
for members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community who have become a hyper-visible target to pin this pandemic on;
for migrants and immigrants who are accused of stealing jobs and depleting resources simply for daring to seek a life for themselves and their loved ones;
For those unjustly shamed across time and space:
For Jesus, tortured and taunted by Roman soldiers, stripped of his friends, his clothing, his life;
For sex workers whose livelihoods are criminalized and bodies dehumanized;
For all who have been victim-blamed, told that harassment, abuse, and even death are their fault because of who they are, how they act, or the jobs or beliefs they hold;
And for those who go unnamed across time and space:
for the two men crucified alongside Jesus, and the countless others who have been tortured, executed, disappeared from before the dawn of the Roman Empire through the current regime the United States;
for all victims of mass shootings, too many to name, too many to bear;
for the numberless masses of human beings crushed under the grindstone of “progress,” the deaths of their cultures and of their bodies justified in the name of excess wealth for the few;
O God who hears the cries of those unjustly blamed, those dehumanized and shamed, those whose names are eradicated from recorded history
and who replies by becoming one of them, by entering into ultimate solidarity on a Roman cross, and by exposing the violence of worldly powers for the evil it is,
Make your Spirit known to us. Unite and empower us for the work ahead.
I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for their 2021 Palm Sunday service occurring not long after the Atlanta Spa Shootings and yet another shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
it was the death of uncounted criminals convicted under Roman law
in fact, two others died with you on that same hill, on that same day in that same way: bloody suffocation on a cross
so if you had lived today your death would have been likewise ordinary and likewise brutal:
exploded veins in the electric chair after an unfair trial
or blood gushing out on a road with a busted street lamp, an officer’s bullet in your gut, no trial at all.
Jesus, Jesus this is why your death matters.
because it didn’t — not to the ones who killed you, not to the soldier who thrust a lance in your side as he had done to so many men on so many days like this one not to the men who cast lots for your clothes, profiting off your pain
your death matters, your death is precious because it was common, ordinary — you share the agony of every tortured spirit who has ever walked this earth
you share every cry muffled under the boot of one in power.
and so i know that they with whom you have shared agony will also share in your rising.
…i have no words for this. it is beyond words. all i have is thank you. thank you.
This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at email@example.com for that permission, or just to chat!
About this poem:
Womanist theologians and other Black theologians, joined with Latin American liberationist theolgians and many others, have argued that substitutionary atonement deeply harms some of the world’s most oppressed persons — the very persons with whom Jesus most intimately identifies. As Miguel De La Torre explains in Embracing Hopelessness,
But as we let go of these beliefs in God’s “need” for a sacrifice to assuage “his” anger, does the cross retain any meaning at all?
The answer is, of course.
Jesus’s death was hideously ordinary— and hence infinitely meaningful. As Richard Rohr said, “God did not die for us. God died with us.”
Through the cross, Jesus exposed the violence that is so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to it for the evil it is — a key example being antiblack violence that forms a core tenet of white supremacy and is one foundation of the United States. Jesus’s execution is akin to the lynchings, shootings, and executions of countless Black lives in the United States — and, James Cone argues in The Cross and the Lynching Tree,
Through the cross, Jesus showed us that God’s power is not human power — is not control through violence, but rather is compassion, is co-suffering, is interdependence and solidarity and letting go of the need for control. But God’s power is antithetical to white supremacy and other oppressive powers, and so Christianity entangled in Empire will continue to promote the God whose anger demands blood and tortures it out of “His” own son.
Furthermore, the dominating powers of Empire — from first century Rome to today’s America — attempt to strip humanity and dignity from those they deem useless or dangerous. But through the cross, Jesus reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of the world’s most reviled, tortured, and discarded — for what they suffer, God has suffered. This is why Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion still matter, even if they are not the key to salvation. De La Torre’s discussion of the cross continues thus:
We must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people. How will you and your communities do so?
Below are several charges + benedictions that may be fitting for various worship services – some for general or joyful services, and others for services that focus on lament or solidarity with the oppressed.
Friends, The Triune God whose self-sustaining love overflows into all Creation, who whirls into our lives and sweeps us up in Their lively dance,
now sends us dancing out into Their world to fill its empty aching with God’s love, to subdue its pain with Their peace, to make Their good news known far and wide in what we say and what we do.
So let us go, glorifying the Source of life in all we do and growing in Their love.
Let us go, following after the Redeemer of life and striving to follow the example He set through His ministry.
Let us go, hand in hand with the Sustainer of life allowing Her to use our hands to transform death into new, radiant, abundant life for all creation. Amen.
[referencing protests and activism]
Siblings in Christ,
Nourished by song and by scripture, by God’s Word proclaimed and Christ’s Body shared, it is time for us to go and be a nourishment to others. Whether at home or at work, at the park or at a protest, let us live out God’s good news of liberation and community for the world.
Go in peace, go with courage, in the name of the One who creates, sustains, and redeems you.
[drawing loosely from Exodus 17:1-7]
How can we thank God for the abundance that Xe has lavished upon us here? Only by responding in kind, by feeding one another as God has fed us.
So let us go now, encouraged by the knowledge that we do not go alone: we have each other; and the one who Creates, Sustains, and Redeems us is in our midst, blessing and empowering us for the work ahead.
[drawing from Psalm 23]
We have worshiped you and praised you for gathering us, diverse as we are, into one flock. Now, it is time for us to enter back into the world.
Lead us forth, guiding us through valleys and shadows, protecting us as we dine not only with friends but also with foes, in the hopes of becoming one with them too.
Help us to be shepherds as well as your sheep, guiding one another through valleys of shadow to food, to water, to rest.
The way is not easy, but we rejoice, because you guide us always and because you give us to one another to serve you and to be your church together.
[suitable for services of lament / that address suffering, anger, etc.]
Comrades in Christ, Here we have received good reason to believe that the God of the Oppressed is with us in solidarity
– not only when we are content or joyful but also when we are grieving, when we are enraged, when we feel disappointed in God, when we cannot feel God.
Assured of God’s steadfast presence, let us go out into a world full of grief and disappointment, full of downtrodden spirits and tortured bodies, and join God in Their solidarity with all who cry out for justice.