Friday, April 18, 2014

The Crucifixion is a Public Warning

Sermon preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Good Friday 2014

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Good Friday 2014

A Public Warning on the Art of Dying

The crucifixion of Jesus is “Roman imperial terrorism” writes Marcus Borg. Crucifixion is the use of violence, suffering and death to pierce the heart of citizens for the sake of peace – the Pax Romana. It was reserved for runaway slaves and for rebel insurgents.

While they did not invent it they used it well. Crucifixion was not simply capital punishment.

Hung close to the ground for birds and dogs to devour, it was supreme in its suffering, in its humiliation, in its complete consumption of the body by the state. So complete was this public disappearance of the person that there was nothing to be buried. In fact only one body has been discovered in an ancient family tomb. The forensic evidence mimicking the suffering wounds of our lord.

Crucifixion was a public warning.[i]

Crucifixion is a public warning.

Scholar Raymond Brown writes: "The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. But the Fourth Gospel [The Gospel of John] localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself.” Very few words are spoken by Jesus.

In John’s Gospel Jesus’ last words, "It is finished" are a victory cry and not some pitiful words from a dying prisoner.

John's words have a triumphant nature and give us a sense that in this moment we have victory. In the moment of his physical dying there is victory.

Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's reconciliation of the world (its earthiness and creatureliness) with the Godhead. That heaven and earth be combined – united – never to be torn apart again.

The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.

It relishes the death of death, the finality of sin, as the falling cross bridges the gap once for all between heaven and earth.

Brown explains it this way, "In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of …[obedience].

[These words are similar to the phrase] "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final blow of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished."[ii]

Crucifixion is a public warning.

And, Jesus’ words are a public cry of victory.

They are “words that comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”[iii] We are “marooned in our own heads,” in our hearts, and in our lives. “We are curved in upon ourselves,” says Augustine. In this moment of victory Christ calls out and allows us access into the other – into God.

We come to this moment of public victory to experience and to know that we do not suffer alone. We do not die alone. We may feel alone, but we are not. We are not alone in this reconciled world where empathy is possible and victory is certain.

In Jesus God is forever identified in our pain and we are forever identified in Jesus’ suffering. In the cross we see more clearly our own suffering as part of the whole. We see the suffering of others. We are united with God and with one another in the mutuality of death.

It is this public warning – this crucifixion - that unites us to God and God to us. We see that God knows and understands and feels our suffering. Not as a God from beyond but a God who is with us - A God who is so obedient to his love for us that he becomes us and dies like us and with us.

For the truth is that we harbor inside a silent and private dread of loneliness and angst about death. As David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest, says: “[we have a collective] dread of being trapped inside a self (a psychic self, not just a physical self), [it] has to do with angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.”[iv]

I believe that in the crucifixion God is acting out and redeeming us – but as in all good reconciling acts we must first come (as Wallace says of art) “face to face with what’s dreadful, what we want to deny.”[v]

The crucifixion as public warning has been turned upside down and in upon itself to become the sign of public victory over the powers of this world. What was a victory cry in the first century against an oppressive invading imperial force today is a victory cry over everything that oppresses us, our “culture’s mediated gratification”, image of perfection, and consumption.[vi] The cross of Christ itself becomes a warning in its victory, an antagonization of our senses and pricks at our conscience’s self-perpetuated lie that death is finality; loneliness is all there is, and loss is inevitable. It challenges the powers-that-be who depend on our attention and money for increased wealth and power in this world.

What is poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it threatens everyone who invites this public disobedience in a spiritual and emotional way. Crucifixion’s contemporary public warning is that you risk looking foolish, uncool, “melodramatic, naïve, unhip or sappy.” Those who wish to live within the shadow of the Christ’s victorious cross must be willing to sort of die in order to be moved and to move others. To actually live a life freed from the power of crucifixion and under the guiding reality of Christ’s victory cry we must have a kind of courage.”[vii]

To behold the cross of Christ is a public act of courage, and art of living, to confront loneliness, death, and loss and in so doing to receive life and live into Christ’s public victory.

Crucifixion is a public warning.

Jesus’ words are a public victory.

To behold the crucifixion is to engage in the personal art of a public dying.

For as Christians we believe that the cross of Jesus Christ, is a power greater than ourselves, and can restore us through an acceptance of death into life.

Jesus’ words are a public victory – Jesus’ death is a cosmic one. Victory is certain and we are not alone.

As D. G. Myers, author and literary critic, in his essay on dying writes: “We are today and everyday entirely ready to have God receive us exactly as we have become, without the opportunity for additional effort”[viii] or success having tried our best and failed many times over.

Edna Hong in the Downward Ascent writes: “There are so many fake props to knock down. And the end of the painful road is not perfection, but perfect humility. Not morbidity and self-loathing, but a humble and contrite heart.[ix]

So, we humbly ask Him to make light of our failures… and we stop all magical thinking that we are becoming ever more perfect.[x]

Living in the victory of the cross is always and everywhere an act of defiance that death does not have the last word and nor does culture or the powers of this world.

Jesus’ words are our public victory.

Crucifixion after all is a public warning…that to behold Christ Crucified is to engage in the art of a personal and public dying for sake of living.

[i] Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, 2006, 146.
[ii] Raymond Brown, John, vol II, Anchor Bible, 931
[iii] 1993 interview by Larry McCaffery with David Foster Wallace author of Infinite Jest. The images I am using of what is taking place in our witness to the crucifixion are adapted from this interview.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.
[ix] Edna Hong, The Downward Ascent, 50-51.
[x] Ibid.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Church Uses Pottery to Engage Spirituality, A Twist on Stations of the Cross, and More

Pottery & Spirituality Merge at Houston Church

"God is the great creator, and we are also made to be creators," said the Rev. Eric Hungerford at St. Mark's Between the Bayous' Pottery & Spirituality Workshop. Click above for a gallery and to read more.

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Free Clergy Spouse Retreat, April 4-5, at Camp Allen
This free retreat is an invitation from JoAnne Doyle, Larry Harrison and Susan Fisher for all active clergy spouses. Join for fun, food and fellowship. You can even sign up for skeet shooting or horseback riding. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. on April 4 and ends April 5 at 3 p.m. Register here.

An Evening of Poetry and Music at Trinity, Houston, April 4
Poets and writers Aliki Barnstone, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and Melissa Studdard will be joined by special guest Donna McKenzie and composer/pianist John Hardesty for "An Evening of Poetry and Music" at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman Street, on April 4 from 7-9 p.m. Click here to learn more.

Taizé Brothers Available for Meetings in Houston Next Week
The Taizé brothers invite you to contact them between April 10 and April 21 to meet, consult, host Taizé services and/or answer questions. They will be in Houston preparing for their Pilgrimage of Trust. They can be reached at 832.980.8224 or by email at They are being hosted by St. John The Divine, Houston on April 25-27. Click here to learn more

Camp Allen Hosts Lunch & Learn Photography Seminar, April 9
Don't miss the second Lunch & Learn event! Enjoy a delicious lunch and a photography seminar entitled "Beyond the Snapshot: Elevating your Everyday Photos" for just $20. Register here.

Interfaith Ministeries' iLead Program Opens Applications
iLead is Houston's premier interfaith youth leadership program. Participants are a selected and diverse group of outstanding young leaders who come together to learn from successful faith, business and civic leaders. This 9-month prestigious program prepares young leaders in a diverse, interfaith setting, helping students learn to implement their own faith and values in the real world. The next session is September 2014 - May 2015, but spots are limited. Get your student's application in today! Click here.

The Astros are Undefeated! Come to Episcopal Night, June 13
Hey, we've gotta celebrate while we can, right? As of the publishing of this newsletter, the Astros haven't lost. It definitely won't be that rosy on June 13, but it will still be a great time for Episcopal Night at the Ballpark. Join hundreds of Episcopalians at the game. Your priest has the opportunity to wave from the field! Click here to learn more.

EHF Report Shows Texas' "Young Invincibles" Have Little Knowledge, Low Opinion of Affordable Care Act
Texas' "Young Invincibles" had a poor understanding of the Affordable Care Act's health coverage opportunities and held a low opinion of the new law, according to a report released today by the Episcopal Health Foundation and Rice University's Baker Institute. Read more.

Join a National Gathering to Challenge Violence, April 9-11
An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence. Bishops, clergy and laity from throughout the Episcopal Church are invited to gather April 9 – 11 at the Reed Center and Sheraton in Oklahoma City, OK (Diocese of Oklahoma). Read more.

Interfaith Ministries of Houston Hosts Spiritual Gathering for Women, April 24
This event will be hosted by the lovely women of the Arya Samaj of Greater Houston who will tell us all about their Hindu faith and traditions. Click here to learn more and register.

Sign Up Your Sharing Faith Dinner Coordinator!
Every church is asked to identify a Dinner Coordinator for their church members' participation. The Dinner Coordinator will coordinate host families and moderators, communicate with parish members, register church members who don't have access to email, and facilitate parish member participation. Click here to register by April 1, 2014 or as soon as possible.  If you have any questions or will not be participating, please contact Gail McGuire in the Diocesan Office (

UTMB Learning Dinners in Galveston for Persons with Dementia, Tuesdays in April
Galveston area families, their loved ones with dementia, friends and caregivers are invited to attend. Following each gourmet buffet dinner a panel of dementia and Alzheimer's specialists will lead an interactive conversation. Panel leader is Dr. Mikaila Raji. Other panelists will enjoy dinner with the attendees. Click here to learn more.

Kindling Conference Created for Young Adult Ministry Leaders
Registration is now open for a visionary Episcopal conference for young adult ministry leaders called Kindling, July 28 – 31 at the Humphrey Center, University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. Learn more.

Mike Endicott Visits Houston for Weekend of Healing Ministry, April 30 - May 4
The Rev. Mike Endicott will return to St. John the Divine, Houston, for a weekend of healing ministry, April 30 - May 4. Learn more.

Sign Up for Diocesan Youth Music Camp, July 6-12
The Diocesan Music Commission will present Diocesan Music Camp for musicians in rising grades 4-8. The camp will be expanded to include both vocal and instrumental music instruction. Interested campers can apply here.  Scholarships are available.  For more information, contact Dr. Linda Patterson 979.836.7248.

Walking the Mourner's Path Groups in Houston & Spring
Walking the Mourners' Path, a small group program for those mourning the death of a loved one, will be offered at Palmer, Houston and Holy Comforter, Spring. Meeting for 8 weeks on Tuesday evenings at Palmer and Sunday afternoons at Holy Comforter, the faith-based group will be led by trained facilitators and follows a curriculum. To learn more about the Palmer meeting, contact Sue Hamblen at For the Holy Comforter meeting, contact Deacon Bob Lowry at 281.229.0194 or

Register for THE Conference with Bishop Rob Wright, May 2-4
Bp. Rob Wright of Atlanta, joins Jamie Clark-Soles, author and professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, SMU, Dallas as keynoters for THE CONFERENCE on evangelism, stewardship and formation, May 2-4, 2014. Learn more and register here

The Episcopal Health Foundation Has Several Job Openings
EHF has openings for Communications Director, Director of Impact and Grants Director. Apply today!

More Upcoming Events

April 4 - Taizé in Dallas

April 5 - Lenten Quiet Day at St. James', Houston

April 6 - Little Church Club Meeting, Camp Allen

April 9 - Miroslav Volf at Christ Church Cathedral

April 11 - Piping Rock Singers at St. Thomas, Houston

April 27 - Wayne Kerr Concert at Trinity, The Woodlands

May 5 - Retreat for Retired Clergy, Spouses, and Retired Spouses

Click here for a full calendar.

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Houston Church Uses Pottery to Engage Spirituality [more]

St. George's School, Austin, Announces New Head of School [more]

St. James', Houston, Puts Creative Twist on Stations of the Cross [more]

Bishop Doyle Speaks at Houston ECW Luncheon [more]

Good Shepherding School for Lay Ministry Reopens in League City [more]


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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