What Have We Learned?

Reflection on Good Friday, Year A


Textual Focus: Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42
Click here for biblical texts


When I was a boy in a small town
40 miles northwest of Detroit
I asked my Dad, “Why are stores closing at noon today?”
He told me it was because Jesus was killed.
I cried.
I loved Jesus.
We went to church and cried together.

Not so many stores close today, even then
the South Side Grocery on the wrong side of town
did not close. Years later, as a teen,
at noon on the day Jesus died,
I helped Dad clean out an apartment
when the tenant left unexpectedly;
new renters were due later that day.
I felt ashamed—we were on Main Street
with our truck loading trash for the dump
while Jesus was dying, and good people
were with him (a few people drove by,
they were not with Jesus either,
and did not seem bothered to see us).
Were we like disciples who disappeared—
maybe they had work to do at home
or needed to fix their nets and boats?

A body will be struck down as I write
and as you read this meditation.

What if we sat in church, or even home or a park,
by ourselves or with others,
three hours every time someone in our town,
or  Jerusalem and the West Bank, Chicago or Ferguson,
Syria or South Sudan, dies
a violent, avoidable, death, every time a child
dies of malnutrition, starvation, in a world
with enough food for all,  
every time a refugee is shot
struggling to get to a land where they can breathe?

We don’t have to wear church clothes,
just sit, and ask forgiveness.
Nothing else would get done. We’d be sitting all the time
no sleep, no reading, no eating, nothing but sitting,
praying, mourning the dead,
and our failure to stop the killing.

What have we learned
since Jesus and two others 
were hung out to die?  

About this poem . . . I will sit quietly in this space today.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net


Are You There?


(Good Friday, Year C; click here for biblical readings, although this poem also makes reference to other Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion)

So many die before their time
if by that we mean they die young,
but some die at what may seem to others
the appointed hour, perhaps saying that about Jesus,
that God sent him to die for us, and this is how
and when it was to happen at that skull
place Golgotha to fulfill scriptural teachings.
But others see lynching in this like those of men
whose only crime was to be their whole selves
but unlike Jesus few if any remember.
He spoke several times, if Scripture is believed,
again unlike the screams unrecorded at other
lynchings, and his words were of forgiveness
and healing for those left behind,
even for those who claimed all righteousness
for the lynching (and we who are Christian do well
to remember Jesus’ generosity, refusal
to judge even as he bled to death on that cross;
we have our lynchings of Jesus’ own people later
and many others, too, we who call ourselves white
killing Jesus’ siblings of darker hues to name a few)—
no people is perfect, especially ourselves.
But those words, varying ones from eyewitnesses recording
one horrible scene, spoken by the victim of inhumanity that
does not yet end, those powerful strange words:
forgive them for they know not what they do;
woman here is your son, disciple behold your mother;
truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise;
it is finished; Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;
and plaintive, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

But where is anger, where is the call to arms, to right wrong,
where rage at injustice? Where call for holy war,
blowing up train stations, beheading bystanders?
Were you there when they hung him on that man-made tree?
Were you there in Baltimore, Ferguson,
San Bernardino, Paris, Jerusalem and West Bank (again!),
Somalia, Beirut, Beijing, many others.
So many die before their time.

Are we numbed by grief or repetition? What are our words?
Do we see ourselves in the crowd shouting Crucify Him
or in Pilate objecting but going along,
afraid of the wrath of the mob? This annual
funeral ritual causes us to tremble,
to look down in shame and horror, to feel sad, lost,
confused. We must respond, but how?
What are our words, do we have any, as we too
hang, not on a wooden cross, but one more deadly on which hangs the world:
indifference, looking the other way,
remorse and regret without self-examination and cleansing,
insufficient help for the poor, not enough food for the hungry,
building walls to magnify our prejudices,
locking people up for living while Black,
shooting those who will not cooperate.
So many die before their time.

Are you there when we hang them out to die?

@Robin Gorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .On Good Friday, we focus, understandably, on what is done to Jesus, but in reading all the gospel accounts, I am struck by what he is recorded as saying (different by each writer, of course, allowing for the vagaries of memory and intention).  The contrast with the Black men  hung up to die in the U.S. South, whose words are not recorded much at all struck me, especially in this season when we see so many people wantonly killed on the streets of our own country and in other parts of the world. There is no time for any of them to speak before the gun or the bomb explodes. I hope we can listen and mourn in the silence. And I hope we can learn to speak in their absence.