Many of you will be familiar with the “Prayers of the Church Community Art Project” produced by Thomas Roach and 65 members of this community. Completed in 2015, each of the small boxes are covered in old vestments material and embroidered with prayers in gold thread. It is a stunning and evolving piece of art that changes colours with the seasons of the church. And, for our purposes this morning, I draw your attention to the negative space, the shape of the cross. And in a little while, as we baptize Alice and…. We’ll mark her with the sign of the cross, marking her as Christ’s
own forever. But, my friends, what’s with the cross? This oh so Christian symbol.
What are we to make of it, especially given Paul’s comments about both the ‘foolishness of the cross’ and the cross as the ‘power of God?’ I invite you to remember this sense of the cross as ‘both and.’ I remember as a kid, watching the old CBC show “Front Page Challenge” and Gordon Sinclair, a panelist, was asking questions that episode of the show’s guest, Fr. Daniel Berrigan. This would have been the early 70’s, the height of the anti Vietnam war protests, and so anti- war activist, Father Berrigan was much in the news, hence his presence on the show. Mr. Sinclair asked about the cross Fr. Berrigan was wearing, saying something like, ‘that cross you wear, that is an instrument of torture and execution. Would you wear an electric chair around your neck?’ I recall being shocked by the question.
I don’t think that Mr. Sinclair was a theologian, but his question was and is an important one. And at some level, it’s driving home part of Paul’s point in the letter to the Corinthians; the death of Jesus the Christ on the cross is scandalous. To Paul’s world, this makes no sense whatsoever. “… 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor 18:23).” It is scandalous because The Christ is executed in a way that slaves were executed. James Cone the late great African American theologian argued persuasively that we need to think of the cross in the same way we think of a lynching tree.
And if you are getting uncomfortable, good. At one level, the cross, even the beautiful one in the negative space of the Prayers of the Community, and the one we’ll place on Alice’s forehead, is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. The cross was a murderous device to kill not just anybody, but ‘the other.’ Quick deaths were reserved for the elites of Roman society. Painful, shameful, slow deaths were for the lowest of the low. When I look at the cross, I see that someone like me, with my gender, my skin colour, my affluence, I’m kind of like a Roman citizen. I’m not likely
going to be crucified or lynched. Rather, I am more likely to do the metaphoric crucifying or lynching of other people.
And then, the Resurrection. The shamed victim of the cross is resurrected; both foolishness and God at work.
There is a 2013 film clip from Saturday Night Live called “Jesus Uncrossed.” (It’s a take off on the film Django Unchained.) In the clip, Jesus is resurrected and proceeds to kill all the people who done him wrong.
It is a brilliant piece of film, and a profound theological observation because the resurrection of Jesus is the antithesis of revenge, its about forgiveness. And so this cross in the Prayers of the Community and the one we’ll mark on Alice’s forehead is also about forgiveness. Its about the grace of God’s undying and fulsome love for each and everyone of us. And it calls each of us to forgive each other for the hurts we have caused.
Christ, the Messiah is tortured and hung on a tree like a slave. And then instead of coming back and exacting revenge, he forgives. I find it virtually impossible to forgive you if you cut me off in traffic, forget if you beat me, stripped me, and nailed me to a cross and left me to die. And for me, this is the fundamental challenge of Christianity. I am called to forgive. I am called to see myself both as victim on the cross and as the torturer who nails the other to the cross, and to forgive myself and those who hurt me.
So today, in the church calendar we wonder together about this cross. Both a symbol of torture, shame and death, and my own complicity in hurting others and at the same time a symbol of resurrection, of hope and forgiveness for myself and those who hurt me. My own journey in ministry these last 17 years or so has been one of coming to terms with Christianity as a ‘both and’ way of thinking. This symbol we hold so dear, the symbol in the Prayers of the Church Community and the mark we shall make on Alice today, is both a symbol of fear like a lynching tree, and a symbol of
forgiveness and God’s love for each and everyone one of us. And so what is an implication for us, here in Vancouver in 2021? For me it starts and ends with ‘both and’ thinking. We live in a zeitgeist that is largely binary. Yes or no, ‘with me’ or ‘against me’, 1 or 0. This is particularly driven by our digital worlds. And it helps our own sense of certainty; in fact in many ways its quite comfortable. We have phrases for it like, ‘what’s the bottom line?’, ‘it’s black and white,’ or ‘it’s really very simple its all about ‘x’’. But God’s universe is far more quantum than we imagine; its far more about the points between, around and through the 1s and 0s, the agree, don’t agree. It is a ‘both and’ universe. It is terrible and terrifying that the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan and military and colonial occupation, no matter
how benign the intention, is not a good thing. Both and. The changes here in our community in clergy and staff are frustrating, even sad. And Armand, Melanie and Claire bring amazing gifts and possibilities. Both and.
The cross is “both and”. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to the Celtic Cross behind me here, the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal and the circle around it. It’s a fantastic ‘both and’, or quantum symbol.
So, what does this ‘both and’ look like in practice, and in how we relate to each other? My invitation is to find ways to work and especially play together in person. We are autonomous individuals and we are a social species. Take time to be on your own and, connect with other people, in person if at all possible. Just think about how good it feels to sing together, or to pray out loud together. In their wonderful book “Burnout” Dr.’s Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski call it an Uber Bubble. They write, “it happens to singers in a choir, players on a team, voters on election night amid a group of likeminded supporters or even movie goers in a crowd of strangers who share enthusiasm for [the movie]. In these activities, through synchronous rhythmic movement, through song, through play, through intense effort to achieve to a shared goal, for a few moments we step onto a neurological bridge, and the barrier between us and other people dissolves – sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little – we experience our own identity as something that extends beyond our own skin into the intangible ‘us’”.
We are both individuals and part of a greater whole. The cross, according to Paul, is both foolishness and the power of God. Perhaps one might imagine that the vertical line intersecting with the horizontal line symbolize this profound ‘both and.’
I’ve been part of tqo memorial services in the past 10 days or so. Raylene Nash, with whom I shared a birthday, and Chris Ellison’s Dad, Alan, with whom. I shared sobriety. At both of these services we sang Rupert Lang’s Kontakion.
When a congregation here sing the Kontakion, we are on that neurological bridge, that Uber Bubble. We are
connecting with each other in profound, wordless ways. We are, ‘both and.’
So, safely, in the midst of these difficult times, connect with each other. Even if you cannot connect in person, watch a movie together sitting on the phone. (For the technologically advanced some streaming services actually allow for group watching using different devices in different places.) Or if you are watching the live stream, call someone you know and watch it together while on the phone with each other, and then discuss the sermon afterwards. Make a date to watch the election (remember likeminded people!) in the same way. If you can, come to church, and sing from the bottom of your feet! These are difficult times and to quote that amazing theologian The Rev. Dixie Black, “we are an amazing species.” We can be sad and resilient. We can be frustrated and change agents. We can be hurt and care for
others. We can be concerned and excited about the journey on which Gods calls us
each and together. Amen.