The backstory of all these headlines, if we read behind the words, is the story of the hunger for power, for control, for revenge. Each of these stories gives us a window into the heart of someone (or sometimes populations of people) who are reaching for control, trying to exert their power and privilege over others. Each one is a failure of our humanity to love - to preserve - to be good stewards of this earth, our resources, and our relationships.
The world we live in teaches us to believe that we must be self-sufficient, and that the only way to ever truly be safe and secure is to be the biggest, strongest, fastest. To hit first or hit back, if necessary. To always be on the defensive. To have the most power.
And yet, when Jesus comes to earth, God incarnate, or perhaps Power incarnate, he does none of these things. At the last supper, Jesus knows that the disciples will abandon him, that Judas will betray him, that Peter will deny him. As he sits at the table, God in flesh, God who created all of us and all that is, he knows what is coming: the torture, the mocking, the physical suffering, the emotional abandonment, the death on the cross. He knows.
And yet, he drops no bombs. He strikes no one. He doesn't ask for the Romans to be deported or for the priests to be punished. He speaks no harsh words. Instead, he breaks bread with the people who are about to betray him. And he offers them (and us) the Institution of the Eucharist, a meal intended to bind them up, to strengthen them, and to help them remember him. Jesus knows they will be lost, terrified, grieved. And even before the disciples have hurt him, he sits at the table and offers them aid, a way to be connected to him in love even when he's gone.
On the same night, he stoops down to wash their feet. Again, Jesus, who has all the power inside him to create and destroy, to bless and curse, to do anything he wants to do - he sets an example for the disciples and for us - an example of service. The washing of feet is a symbol for us. He doesn't mean for us to go round washing folks' feet all the time; but instead means for us to understand that real power, real strength comes from loving action like this - when we serve our neighbors, when we put their needs above our own.
There is a marked difference between the power of the world and the power of God. These three days tell us the story of what God can do - of the incredible power of God. And, despite this unbeatable power, Jesus chooses to give us his body - his blood - his life. To be the sacrificial lamb, so that the angel of death might passover us. To serve us and to put our needs ahead of his own. And in so doing, saves us all.
On this day, Good Friday, we remember that the powers of this world killed the Savior. And we try to face our own failings, the times when we have denied Jesus. The times when we have abandoned him because we were focused on our own will, our own desires, and our own quest for power. We are meant today to struggle with the darkness of the world and the sadness of the cross. The fact that no one speaks for him - no one seems even to try to defend him. And to recognize that all this lives in us, too.
As Christians, we're intended to look both within ourselves and at the world around us. To see the brokenness. And to see the places where Jesus is still being crucified - and how we are abandoning him. He lives in the LGBTQ people and other marginalized populations that are suffering because of a rise in hate crimes. He lives in those we deport, deny, and starve. He lives in those whom we deny healthcare and basic civil rights. He lives in those we kill, those whom we fail to see, and those we oppress because of our racism, bigotry, and fear. And when we fail these people - we fail Jesus, too. We leave him. We abandon him.
Our work is that of peace, dignity, and justice. Our work is to do as Jesus did - to love and serve the people with whom he shared his life. To continually seek to make more room at the table, especially for those who have been cast out, left behind, and marginalized. Our work is to seek and serve Jesus in all of these people - yes, in all people. To forgive those who have hurt us, to ask forgiveness ourselves. To face the darkness of the cross that lives in us each day, that tempts us, that distracts us, and seeks to force us to believe in ourselves - our own strength, our own power.
Today, in the shadow of the cross, I pray that you will confront those voices in your own life that lead you away from Jesus. The words, actions, routines, and relationships that encourage you to deny Jesus, that cause you to fail to stoop to serve him in your neighbors. Confront this darkness today knowing that God's power is the only one that can truly save - and remember the difference between the way Jesus uses this power - and the way the world grasps at power. Where Jesus' power creates community, safe space, healing and peace - the power of the world creates only destruction, fear, chaos and suffering. While Jesus' power living within us can lead us to love and eternal life, the power of the world can only lead us to isolation and death. Remember that violence begets violence. Remember, too, that this isn't the end of the story. God has the power to change this story - and we have hands and feet to help.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.