My Good Friday address is in the ‘read more’ link below. I’m wrung out and hungry, waiting for Margaret, to hear how her word from the cross went. I’m going to go do something not challenging.
6 April 2012
St. Mary’s, Glasgow
Clydeside Jesus sits in a bare interview room in headquarters on Dumbarton Road: roughed up, bloodied, sleepless, facing the DCI and the bright lights. In a few hours he’ll be strung up on a crane, where the workers and addicts and the scroungers, the Travellers and the rough boys can take a lesson from him. This afternoon, on Clydeside Friday, the hymnsheet comes from the old union song that urges us to decide which side we’re on, boys, which side are we on — and as wisely as we may want to resist facile opposites, as many shades of grey as we may want to distinguish, some moments refuse us the luxury of nuance.
As the pressure builds, as the fœtid scent of death’s miasma curls around us, as the stench stops our breath, fewer and fewer options come into focus. In the dark interview room with the glaring lights, the interrogator leans over the table and repeats his questions. Whom will you turn over? Whose friend are you?
We who profess the faith of Jesus Christ crucified have volunteered to sit in that room, have offered to face the interrogator. We have at our baptism pledged to hold our silence when he asks us to give up our friends, to repudiate our faith. Shades of grey don’t enter into it; marked as Christ’s own, we have pledged that not torture, not convenience, not fear, not death itself will coerce us to deny the truth.
The interrogator enters our holding cell and asks again ‘Where are you from?’ And we say nothing. He says to us, ‘Do you refuse to answer me? Don’t you know that I have power to release you, and power to execute you?’
In those hard-edged words, we hear the voice of power, speaking within a story that revolves around power, about who can exercise it, and about who feels power tread them down. The voice of power demands to know where our allegiance lies — and if we dare say, ‘Here we have no city, but we are awaiting the city that is to come, a better city. Our citizenship is in heaven’, or even if we only keep a measured silence — the inquisitor threatens us with death. The inquisitor offers this choice: live as traitors, or with integrity die. Which side you are you on?
In the case before us this afternoon, the governor himself acts as DCI, interrogates the Lord of life and death, the One without whom nothing comes into being. Jesus cautions him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above’, but as Pilate takes the words in, pauses, the tables turn and now the crowds threaten the inquisitor: ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of Cæsar.’
Well, the inquisitor decides whose side he’s on; he’s on the emperor’s side. The crowds decide which side they’re on with the awful denial: ‘We have no king but Cæsar’. And the inquisitor turns his maleficent attention to the haggard prisoner again, and asks, ‘Whose side are you on?’
This is what the cross means: that the incarnate Son of God, who could summon legions of angels to his defence, stands with the powerless. Or — more precisely — he stands with those whose only power is silence, is refusing to fit themselves into Cæsar’s game of coercion and betrayal. God incarnate walks, bleeds, stumbles among us as one who marshals no resources against the inquisitor. While Cæsar befriends the inquisitor, Jesus huddles with the friendless. When the inquisitor crushes the prisoner’s spirit, Jesus cries out in desolation. As the power of wealth suffocates the needy, Jesus gasps for breath. Jesus recognises no sides over against anybody, but he declares unwavering, eternal solidarity with hungry, penniless, addicted, disregarded nobodies; if the stuffed, the wealthy, the influential want to stand by his side, they must come down to the riverside, traipse along through the oily mud, embrace their grease-clothed neighbours. Any who have thrown their lot in with Cæsar and the inquisitor, with the insiders who handed Jesus over, with the brutes whose iron pressed thorns down on his brow — they in turn can attend Cæsar’s tea, trade stories about the dangers of urban life, keep their clothes clean and ironed and pressed. That’s their choice.
This is what the cross means: the ‘power’ by which God releases the world into being does not coerce or bind, does not flog or pierce. The power by which God ravishes us with colour and harmony and savour and joy does not brutalise or bruise. The power by which God saves us — makes us free, strong, bold, resolute to face Pilate and recognise his weakness, to see the torturers and recognise their woundedness, to look our own death in the eye and see clearly the life for which we we have been set free.
For the inquisitor has no control, no power over life and death; he cannot keep death at bay, and in executing us he does not impose but only hastens death. The power of inquisitor trades in comforting illusions paid for by hungry, skint, displaced refugees who can’t call on the privilege of making this city of pain and betrayal into their comfortable, abiding home. The beggars, the rough sleepers, they are no friends of Cæsar; Cæsar cannot, will not, does not care to hear their voices. Cæsar wants to hear his friend, the inquisitor, say ‘Don’t worry, we’ve sorted that little problem. Everything is just fine.’ That’s the inquisitor’s power; that, he can control.
And at the riverside, the dispiriting silence bears witness to the fruits of Cæsar’s friendship. Clydeside Jesus gives up the ghost; the power of this world claims victory over gentleness, over solidarity, over weakness. The cranes overhead creak eerily and sway a little in the wind. DCI Pilate washes his hands. Grey Glasgow gloats over glorious green Glasgow, at least for an afternoon. But beneath grey skies, green grows. The gentle, free, flowing power of the cross can wait.
Three days, anyway.