The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Friday, April 18, 2014

Strange fruit

Good Friday
John 18:1-19:42


I want to be very careful today.

I want to be careful that we don’t fall into that age-old trap of Holy Week, and particularly Good Friday, of laying blame for the death of Jesus on Jewish people - as if there is something inherently broken or unholy among the Jews that makes them and their faith more broken or less holy than any of the rest of us.

It’s simply not the case.

When we read the Passion narrative - and perhaps even more explicitly here in the Passion According to John - the people that the author simply calls “the Jews” are cast as the sort of “bad guys” in the story.  Their leaders - the chief priests and scribes - are the first ones to condemn Jesus.  They are the ones who call for the release of Barabbas.  They are the ones left unsatisfied by the cruelty of the beatings.  They are the ones who shout “crucify him!”

But that doesn’t mean that “the Jews” are the villains.

As I’ve been making my Holy Week journey - and particularly today, on Good Friday - my soundtrack has been a set of African American protest songs as interpreted by Nina Simone.

When we behold the hard wood of the cross, it’s hard not to be reminded of that haunting ballad, “Strange Fruit”.  This tree also bears strange fruit.

Good Friday is not a time to lay blame on any people or any faith.  It’s not a time to point fingers, or to look away.  Good Friday is a time to look within ourselves.  The cross is a mirror to every failing we are prone to have: violence, oppression, degradation… the list goes on and on.

“Strange Fruit” is a Good Friday hymn of our greatest and original sin here in the United States.  It’s a hymn to those who once hung on trees in our own backyard.  But sadly, humanity’s Good Friday isn’t even that long ago.

Gay and lesbian people are being hunted, tortured, killed, and imprisoned right now in places like Russia, India, Nigeria and Uganda.

Syria and South Sudan stand on the cusp of genocide.

Transgender people have recently been murdered on the streets of Oakland, Washington, New York, and literally all around the world.

All sorts of people on the margins of society are being bullied into submission and sometimes even to death.

And in the midst of all of this, the heartbeat of racism beats, even still.

The cross stands, still, as a mirror into our own worst selves.  This human tree does bear strange fruit.  We let it.

Nina Simone said that “Strange Fruit” was the ugliest song she’d ever heard - beautiful in its rich emotion, but ugly because it shows in such a raw way how ugly we can all be.

Good Friday isn’t a time to point fingers and to blame.  It’s time to look within ourselves.

We keep bearing strange fruit.




"Strange Fruit"
Southern trees
Bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
And blood at the roots
Black bodies
Swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin'
From the poplar trees
Pastoral scene
Of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes
And the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia
Clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell
Of burnin' flesh
Here is a fruit
For the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the leaves to drop
Here is a
Strange and bitter crop

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