ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN
Once again we have returned to Golgotha. We have witnessed the brutal treatment of Jesus, the one we love. We have seen him falsely accused, beaten and humiliated. Along with Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and the disciple Jesus loved, we have seen Our Lord crucified. We have watched him die.
After his death, the gospel writer quotes two related Old Testament prophecies. He writes: “These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’”
They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
The daily readings for Holy Week contain several passages from the Old Testament book of Lamentations. As its name suggests, the book of Lamentations is a series of laments. The author of Lamentations mourns the destruction of the city of Jerusalem: destruction which occurred several centuries before the birth of Jesus.
The first chapter begins, “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger…”
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…
These words are familiar to some. They are said in the Stations of the Cross, a service used by many Christians as a commemoration of Our Lord’s final hours in Jerusalem.
Early Christians saw many connections between Hebrew scriptures and the life of Jesus. This is one of them. Many people passed by the ruins of ancient Jerusalem. Centuries later many people passed by Jesus hanging on a cross. The symbolic connection is easy to recognize: Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…
You and I pass by things good and bad every day, but how often do we notice? How often do we stop and pay attention?
As you travel on the Interstate through downtown Atlanta you can see two Episcopal churches: All Saints’ and St. Luke’s. St. Luke’s is my home parish. Every time I pass by on the Interstate I briefly glance at St. Luke’s. I guess it’s a little ritual of sorts. It somehow reassures me just to see it there standing tall and proud.
St. Luke’s was built in a certain traditional style of English architecture. Atop the façade is a simple stone cross, not very big, but noticeable.
One morning years ago I glanced up from the Interstate and the little cross was gone. I felt confused and distressed. Where was the cross? Who had taken it, and why?
Then I remembered that the slate roof of St. Luke’s was being renovated. I suspected the cross had been taken down during that process.
I was right. The cross was back in a week or so.
Strange, though, how the absence of a familiar stone cross shook me so. In retrospect the words of Lamentations come to mind: is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? That particular morning I took notice while passing by.
I noticed a missing piece of stone. That’s fine, but I wonder: what other things did I fail to notice that day? What else did I pass by? What crucifixion, great or small, did I choose not to see?
James Allen is an Atlanta man with a very unusual hobby. Several years ago he began collecting post cards from the first half of this century. That’s not unusual. However, his subject matter was very unusual.
These picture postcards do not depict vacation spots or historical landmarks. They are nothing like that. These postcards are black and white photographs of public lynchings.
They are not pretty. As you can imagine, they are extremely gruesome. This collection of lynching postcards has been published in book form. It’s called Without Sanctuary, and I have seen it.
There was a time when people attended public lynchings. They brought their children along. They had their picture made with the dead body prominently displayed. These pictures were made into postcards, and the postcards were sent to friends.
This practice was not uncommon. Without Sanctuary contains picture postcards from throughout the South, the Midwest, and the West. Some were taken in Georgia. A few were close by.
The victims included both blacks and whites, both men and women.
These are historical documents, and they are shocking. The dead bodies are certainly gruesome, but even more shocking for me is the casual, nonchalant expression of the bystanders.
There appears to be no concern and certainly no regret. The atmosphere appears festive – more like a county fair than an execution. The ladies and the children wear their Sunday best.
One photograph is particularly haunting. The victim is still alive. He has been severely whipped but not yet hung. He stares directly into the camera, expressionless. Perhaps he is numb. Or perhaps he is asking a question, a question for each person who will ever see his face: Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…
Tonight we are gathered to look into the face of Jesus as he suffers and dies. His passion is something to us. We are here tonight. We did not pass him by. We know there is no sorrow like his sorrow. We look on the one whom they have pierced.
We cannot change what happened to Jesus. We can only stand by and watch. We watch from a distance: a distance of twenty-one centuries.
We cannot change what happened to Jesus. However, we can change what is happening in our day. As we go through our lives we pass by many things both good and bad. How often do we notice? How many crucifixions great and small occur along our way? Are they nothing to us? Are we willing to stop and notice? Will we look upon the ones they have pierced?
We are here tonight to look in the face of Jesus, and that is good. On this night, this is the place we need to be.
But as we go away from here will we look in the faces of those who suffer? Will we look and see their sorrow? Will the suffering of “the least of these” God’s children mean something to us?
If so, that would please Jesus. That would please Jesus most of all.
[By tradition tonight’s loose offering is designated for the Diocese of Jerusalem.]
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