Our church here in New York began the Easter service a few days ago with a ritual that I borrowed from our previous church in Vancouver. The congregation was invited to approach a rough cross assembled by binding thorny sticks together, they each took a few flowers and filled the dead cross with color. Below is the piece that I wrote to introduce the idea and begin the service (channelling my inner Brueggemann).
This rough, dead, thorny, barren cross is the symbol of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans.
But Jesus’ life shows us that this cross is also the symbol of:
the poor choking on injustice,
those who society views as suspicious, dangerous, dirty, immoral, or stupid,
the migrant far from home, overworked yet under-welcomed,
the bullied, tied up in knots of fear, anger, and self-loathing
those on the underside of every history of privilege,
those suffering and dying of diseases easily cured because of the indifference of neighbors,
those imprisoned, especially those imprisoned wrongly, or imprisoned for trivialities,
those on whose backs fortunes are made, but who never see the benefit,
the sexually abused, exploited, confused, repressed,
the nameless numbers enduring every systemic bureaucratic, faceless evil,
the dispossessed animals, suffocating oceans, sterile streams, oily rivers, smoke-clogged skies, and collapsing ecosystems trampled by a “non-negotiable” way of life,
the souls crushed under repetitive, mindless demands for hollow productivity,
the invaded, colonized, occupied, and displaced,
the conscripted, indebted, swindled, and ignored.
We all know the cross in these ways. We carry these crosses and we force them on others.
But today more than any other day we remember:
that God raised life up after people had used this dead, thorny, barren tool to do their worst,
that all the death the systems of this world could muster couldn’t contain the life of God’s Spirit,
that hell itself, its damnation and judgment, couldn’t contain the life of God’s spirit.
So we wait (with our fear), we hope (with our anger), we keep the faith (with our guilt), looking:
for God’s revolution,
to overturn and overwhelm,
to undo, flood, and wipe away these systems in the name of life.
As a gesture or ritual of this hope,
an image of change,
a pledge of reform,
a seed of faith,
a whisper of the resurrection,
I invite you to take a few of these flowers and fill this death-ridden cross, and all the injustice it represents, with fragile life. Take a few flowers, find a way to jam them into the crevices of the cross, and then we will worship.