This year, as has been a long-held tradition in Brattleboro, clergy from different Christian churches are gathering for Good Friday.
For the hours between noon and 3 p.m. today we will sit with each other and share prayers and reflections on the seven last phrases Jesus is believed to have uttered. It can be a powerful experience and it has the potential to be quite disturbing, as we ponder each other's interpretations of the story and the relevance of the story to today's world.
When invited to share in the worship this year, a colleague of mine wrote: "I have made a commitment to myself, that if I can not sit next to a Jewish friend at a Good Friday service, knowing it was totally safe for him/her, I would not be there myself. Christians must take responsibility for the telling of the Passion Story and the anti-Semitism that flows out of it."
He was referring, of course, to Mel Gibson-type interpretations of the Christian story which point dramatically to Jesus' closest friends as complicit in his crucifixion. The irony here is that modern and post-modern theologians and historians have long since discarded this prejudice as flawed. Mark Allen Powell, editor of the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary has written: "Jesus was crucified as a Jewish victim of Roman violence. On this, all written authorities agree. A Gentile Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, condemned him to death and had him tortured and executed by Gentile Roman soldiers. Jesus was indeed one of thousands of Jews crucified by the Romans."
And here we must take pause. Just as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are bound together in the Jewish faith, the new year and the day of atonement being essential, one to the other, so too, Christians are not to be allowed to jump to Easter without facing their complicity in the many acts of oppression which continue to be acted out around the world.
In fact, the seven last "words" ask us to consider how we, as individuals can be selfish and ruthless, as, as importantly, how a bruised and broken body might become an emblem of the contemporary world, our planet, and of how we sit by and allow and the triumph of ignorance and violence.
When taken to the core of its meaning, Good Friday asks us to stand with people of all spiritual and secular traditions in calling for a moral order in which no one is sacrificed for the satisfaction of another. And it suggests we embrace a unified concern for our fragile planet, as home to us all.
We can and do tremble at the killings in Belgium and San Bernadino, in Ferguson and Flint, but we also need to recognize that people are dying senselessly and violently all around the world, in Yemen and Afghanistan, in Turkey and Tunisia, and that each of us is called, personally and locally, not to sit by and let these things pass unnoticed.
We all need to ask ourselves who we are willing and able to sit with at these moments of trial and if any of us can afford to sit by and allow prejudice to win over the deeper truths of love and courage which are the true core of all faith traditions.
Rev. Lise Sparrow is an ordained pastor of the United Church of Christ The Good Friday service will be held today from 12 noon to 3pm at the Guilford Community Church, UCC. Everyone is welcome.