Then he [Pilate] handed him over to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him…
There is so much wrapped up in that verb. Given all that the Romans were good at, it’s no small wonder that they were experts at execution as well. The violence of the cross—the terror and torture, sights and sounds, the public shame and suffering—all summed up in this one word, “crucified.” Our Lord was crucified. The gospel writer doesn’t tell us what that means, doesn’t explain what manner of death Jesus was sent to. The first readers of this story knew. We know. Jesus didn’t just die, he was crucified. So disturbing and violent is this word that not even John wants to recount the details.
This should have been enough to sate our sin; the execution of an innocent man, the crucifixion of God. The political machine of Rome, the fear of the oppressed, the love of greed, the extreme corruption of the empire…these are the hammer blows that drove nails into that holy flesh.
Think of this sin like an oil geyser on fire. It is dangerous and out of control, a threat to everything around it. The crucifixion of Jesus was a bomb, set in the base of the geyser to suck all the oxygen into the explosion and snuff out the raging fire. If only the violence of the cross shook us enough to turn away from the systems of oppression, corruption, and injustice.
The fire rages on. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have failed in following this greatest commandment. We are complicit in systems that favor the few at the expense of the many. We are a country who has been taught to fear—the stranger, the disabled, the queer, the outsider, the accented voice, the black and brown bodied—we live in fear for our lives, jobs, and freedoms. This is that same fear that put Jesus on that cross.
When will we be an Easter people? Last June, we rang our church bell 49 times to honor those murdered at the Pulse Nightclub. Two weeks ago, I rang it 17 times to honor those murdered at their school in Parkland, Florida. When will I be able to stop ringing the bell in sorrow? When will we leave our fear and violence at the cross and let ourselves be resurrected with Christ?
Rev. Annie Reilly is the Associate Pastor at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs. Reilly is fortunate to work with the incredible 6th – 12th graders at PNECC, while also tending to the many joyful duties of an associate pastor. Born and raised in Michigan, Reilly has lived and served in the Capital Region since 2012. She currently lives in Troy with her wife Nikki, their dog Copper, and cat Wesley. The whole household is dreaming of spring and vegetable beds.