By the Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson
Today is the feast of Holy Cross Day, a day when the church pauses to recognize the centrality of the cross to our lives and salvation. On this day we pray with the whole church,
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
That’s a pretty tall order, that we might take up our cross and follow him. What does that even mean? Well, I believe it means that the church takes the witness and example of Jesus, the way of Love that he lived and for which he died, as our definitive call to action. The Cross marks the place where God said in no uncertain terms, “I am with you. Full Stop. No matter what. No matter how. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What’s more, that statement comes in the midst and as a result of a world full of anger, hatred, and violence toward what Jesus called “the least of these.” Jesus’ death on the Cross transforms this instrument of torture and terror into a symbol of solidarity with those the powerful would seek to oppress. Our own bishop, The Right Reverend Craig Loya talks a lot about how this moment of Pandemic, when so much about inequality, racism, poverty, and need are being made clearer than ever to the church and the world, is a moment to recommit to Jesus’ Way of Love. I have heard him time and again call us to focus on the work of discipleship, to commit to being formed and shaped by the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love, a way that is none other than the way of the Cross. This morning he wrote on social media:
The only way our witness to the way of love will have even a shred of credibility is the extent to which our lives look like the God who is most revealed on the cross, the extent to which we stand with and for those rejected, unwanted, mocked, and tortured by the empires of the world. The cross reminds us that if you want to meet that God, you will find God in the children caged in detention centers, in the protesters in the streets, in the woman who has been trafficked, in the tent camp by the highway, in all the small forgotten places.
The great prophet to American Christianity Dr. James Cone pointed out this reality in his essential read The Cross and the Lynching Tree, naming with crystal clarity the connections between these two instruments of terror, naming the crucifixion as a “first-century lynching”. He writes “the cross placed alongside the lynching tree can help us to see Jesus in America in a new light, and thereby empower people who claim to follow him to take a stand against white supremacy and every kind of injustice.”
In a small way, we at Saint John’s are beginning to do that. This week two banners created by your vestry were placed, one on Summit Avenue, and one on the fence in front of Saint John’s on Portland, that affirm our support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. These are both a reminder to us and to the world, that our work as followers of Jesus, is to stand with those on the margins, those whose lives are demeaned and devalued by the structures and systems of empire. These banners are also just an outward way of saying that we are beginning the difficult and lifelong work of addressing and dismantling systemic racism in the church and at Saint John’s. It is but one way we are taking up our cross and following Jesus. If you would like to engage with me or another member of our vestry around how you can participate in the work of dismantling racism and becoming anti-racist, as a part of your own personal faith journey, know that Saint John’s has a long list of resources for you, from books to read, leaders to follow on social media, projects to do with all ages, organizations we recommend supporting, and ways to help Saint John’s do this essential work within our own faith community.