Connecting Beyond the Walls


Today’s word of hope comes to us from our own Rev. Emily Hull McGee, pastor of First Baptist Church on Fifth, Winston-Salem NC.

Last night, a community of worshipers in Winston-Salem gathered online for our Maundy Thursday service.

As with so many things these days, it wasn’t as intended, Rev. Paul Robeson Ford reminded us. We had intended to be at the Millennium Center, a multiracial mix of people from all around the city. We had intended to submit to one another in holy observance of communion, foot-washing, and hearing the story of Jesus’ final hours spoken and sung from within the black experience. We had intended to bring our bodies together for grief and lament, for remembrance and response.

Intention shifted with imagination, and we gathered instead online. But what unfolded was still — and perhaps even more, given our limitations! — a rousing experience of positioning our minds and hearts and bodies with Jesus: in the upper room, stooping to wash feet, taking bread and cup, moving to the garden, the court, the way, the cross, receiving the lash and sting of violence for the sake of the world.

On this Friday we call ‘Good,’ we inhabit the hours of this day by positioning our minds and hearts and our bodies with Jesus. Our shoulders sag under the weight of the cross he bore. Our brow feels the pierce of thorns in flesh. Our hands and feet ache alongside his. Our voice cries out, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

For in such positioning, we can begin to experience what theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote about in The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology: “When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”  

I leave you with the prayer I shared last night, a prayer of positioning with the God who positions with us. 

God who took, blessed, broke, and gave your body to the world, through Jesus, you model for us that bodies matter. You stooped to grasp feet, you sat around a table, you participated in intimate proximity with people. You have seen us deny common humanity and dignity to one another, reserve our vulnerabilities from those we fear, withhold our full selves from a full-bodied community. As one who invites all your children to the table of love, relieve us of our foolish and jealous desire to determine the boundaries of who’s in and out. Loosen our grip on that which we’re hoarding. Forgive us for tossing crumbs to others only after we’re satisfied. Give us your hunger for justice and righteousness that we may be fed. 

God who was betrayed and denied by those you called friends, through Jesus, you have borne the weight of our indifference. You have seen us standing at a distance unwilling to claim you and risk what that would bring. You have heard us guiltily sell our loyalty to the highest bidder — the screen, the candidate, the addiction, the system. As one who knows betrayal, stand firm with those whose lives are destroyed by another. Come close to those who are denied the things that make for flourishing: life, love, basic needs, entry, refuge, purpose, safety, and care. Rend our hearts to you and you alone.

Lonely God of Gethsemane, through Jesus, you have experienced the crushing weight of utter isolation. You have felt the hurt from those who slumber through your greatest hour of need. You have cried the tears of one who feels abandoned and forsaken. As one who prayed for this anguish to pass away, encircle those who toil in the garden of their afflictions. Receive those in the throes of grief, those whose lives hang in the balance, those choked by violence, those sickened by their own fear, those who struggle even to breathe. Awaken us from all that lulls us into disregard. 

God who stood trial and bore conviction, through Jesus, you have withstood lies and false witness, those who have distorted and deceived the innocent in your name. You have faced us in love as we stare you down, saying your way of life is no match for the ways of power, privilege, and control we want instead. You have been burdened with our accusations and protestations, flung by those who cheered your arrival on Sunday and called for your death today. As one who was handed over to the authorities, extend your hand to all caught in the grip of the law. Release us from the indictments of self or others that speak a sentence of shame into our being. For those with skin like mine, liberate us from the chains and cells of our sin: our racism, our privilege, our fragility, our safety, our grip on the way things have been and our desire to recover what was. Unchain us all. 

God of scorn and abuse, through Jesus, you have felt every lash, every strike, every wound, every bruise. You have stumbled in the pain of our rejection and despair. You have walked willingly to the end. As one who endured suffering of the deepest kind, grieve with those who are in pain this day. Wail with the women who beat their breasts, who groan for all they have lost, who will not be consoled. With your Love made flesh, carry those whose daily crosses are too heavy a weight to bear. 

Crucified God, through Jesus, you have powerlessly shouldered the full weight of the cross, relinquishing your life in order that we might receive ours. You have submitted yourself toward the One who was hidden from you, becoming obedient even unto death on a cross. You have begged forgiveness for all who stand helplessly at the foot of your cross, realizing only now what we have done. As one whose body was broken for the sake of the world, look upon those whose bodies are abused, violated, lynched, persecuted, tortured, caged. Cry out with those who long to know why — why bodies fail, why medicine doesn’t work, why cancer consumes, why inequity persists, why they can’t face their love of power, why their hands and feet won’t abide the will of their minds and hearts. Hunger for our justice, thirst for our righteousness, strain towards the redemption and liberation of all your creation. 

Betrayed, denied, abandoned, tried, convicted, abused, and crucified God…have mercy on us.
Let the heavens crack open.
Let the earth quake.
Let the veil tear in two.
Let the new world be revealed.
Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

Together in God’s work of Love,
Pastor Emily









Pin It on Pinterest

Share This