Death Be Not Proud: The Easter Gospel of Non-Violence

I am excited to be alive this Easter. I see a movement in the church that is once again looking at the non-violent Jesus with awe and wonder.
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I'm writing on "Good" Friday, the day Christians around the world remember Jesus' crucifixion. One of my neighbors said to me this morning, "I thought it's supposed to rain on Good Friday... but today I see nothing but sun." I don't think she meant to be theological.

The irony of the "good" on Good Friday is that we Christians believe that what makes it good is that Jesus rose from the dead a few days later (without that part it seems a bit masochistic). And as he rose from the dead he triumphed over all the bad and ugly things in this world -- like crosses and guns and bombs -- and things like violence, murder, hatred, racism, and all the stuff that destroys life. The promise of Easter is that after the world went dark on that Friday dripping with blood, the sun will rise again.

This Good Friday was especially filled with light here in the City of Love. Hundreds of Christians gathered in Philadelphia with friends of other faiths and people of conscience, and we took our services out of the cathedrals into the streets.

Where we gathered is important. We gathered outside of two places that represent death, Lockheed Martin (the largest weapons dealer in the world) and the Shooter Shop (a notorious gunshop in Philadelphia). At noon there was a service outside Lockheed Martin, where folks walked through the stages of Jesus' execution, with the last station "trespassing" on the Lockheed property (and they were arrested as they prayed). At 4pm there was another gathering with hundreds of folks, outside The Shooter Shop, which has been noted as one of the worst gunshops in the country for having guns irresponsibly sold there used to kill folks on the streets (part of a campaign called "Heeding God's Call" that is trying to get gunshop owners to sign a 10 point voluntary Code of Conduct drafted by hundreds of Mayors who agree that these responsible business practices would decrease the violence on our streets).

Lockheed Martin and The Shooter Shop represent places that have become profiteers of violence. They seem like good places to spend Good Friday. We went there, not to attack, but to bear witness. We were there to remember the passion of Christ and the pain of our world.... We were there to remember those who continue, like Christ, to endure torture, insults, unfair trials, and state-sanctioned violence...

Click here to see Photos of The Shooter Shop and the Good Friday Vigil

Here's a little word I shared in our call to worship at the Shooter Shop:

"Some of us come in the anguish of death asking with Jesus, "My God My God why have you forsaken me"? Some of us come today with the hope of resurrection. But we also remember that before Jesus died, he wept over Jerusalem because "it did not know the things that would bring peace". And today we weep with Jesus over Philadelphia where a life is lost nearly every 48 hours to gun violence.

One of those was a 19 year old kid named Papito who was killed on February 5 just a few blocks away from where we are now... his mother and family are with us today. And another victim was a seventy-six year old woman shot yesterday about a mile from where we stand. We hold the names of hundreds of victims in our hands and in our hearts [as we lifted up crosses with the names of all the folks killed last year in Philadelphia].

And let us remember today that the story of Jesus's cross did not end on Friday. On Sunday the tomb was empty. It may be Friday now but we know that Sunday is coming. And It is our hope and our dream today that tomorrow the tomb will be empty -- that their will be no more blood, no more tears, no more grieving mothers. For we are people who believe in a love the triumphs over death."

I am excited to be alive this Easter. I see a movement in the church that is once again looking at the non-violent Jesus with awe and wonder. We are convinced that Christians should be the hardest people in the world to convince that violence is necessary ... not the folks beating war drums and pushing for the death penalty. As we look at the cross, we see what perfect love looks like as it stares evil in the face. It says, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." It is a Gospel of nonviolence.

I realize the non-violence of the Gospel has not always characterized Christianity. Christians have often been the biggest obstacle to God. Forgive us -- for blessing bombs, for the crusades and "holy" wars, for creating an apologetic for torture, for holding signs that say "God hates fags", starting apocalyptic militias, and blowing up abortion clinics. These things are not the Christianity of Christ. If they are Christianity, it is a Christianity that has grown sick, sick beyond recognition. It does not look like Jesus.

But today I saw something different. We remembered a Savior who died from a state-sanctioned execution. We remembered the Jesus who was jailed and tortured with insurrectionists and terrorists and bandits ... the Jesus who loved his enemies so much he died for them (for us).

And today we pondered the mystery of resurrection this Easter -- when Christ rose from the dead to make a spectacle of death. He laughed at power. He winked at Caesar and the Roman cross from the heavens. And it is his resurrection that gives us the hope that, in the end, life is more powerful than death. Grace does triumph over hatred... In the end love wins.

There is a growing movement of Christians who are convinced that our faith is not just a ticket into heaven and an excuse to ignore the hells of the world around us. There is a movement of Christians who know that our Christianity is not just about going up when we die, but bringing God's Kingdom down ... "on earth as it is in heaven", as Jesus said. We are not willing to settle for a Christianity that only promises folks life after death when people are asking... "but is there life before death?"

That's what I saw this "Good" Friday. I think Jesus is smiling. It may be Friday ... but Sunday is coming.

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