I’m a pastor.
Every year, before we read the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial, I remind people that when we read “The Jews” in this story, we are not talking about your average Jewish person. We are talking about the religious leaders. The priests, the people in charge of the Temple and the holy scriptures, the teachers and the preachers…THOSE are the people who go to Pilate and convince him to crucify Jesus.
And every year, as I explain that, I am struck that I am describing myself. I am a religious leader.
So, tonight, when I got home from leading Good Friday worship and reading the Passion of our Lord according to the gospel of St. John, I wrote myself into the story. I wrote some others in, too. It was an ugly thing to write. Tammy and Tim, I included you because of your roles. I hope you don’t mind. If anyone reading this thinks it is sacrilegious and wants to call me a blasphemer, you may absolutely do so. After pouring over this for the last hour, any name you want to call me will pale. I’m clinging to my baptism as I crawl into bed tonight.
A North Carolina Passion Story
Jesus went with his disciples to the Blue Ridge Mountains; there was a park there where he and his disciples often went. So, Judas brought a detachment of police officers and a squad of security officers the office of the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA had on retainer, and they came with cell-phone flashlights and a spot light and guns. Simon Peter had a gun, too, and he shot off the ear of one of the synod’s security officers. Jesus told Peter to put his gun away.
So, the police officers, their sergeant, and the synod’s security guards arrested Jesus and handcuffed him. First, they took him to Tammy Jones West, who was the Assistant to the Bishop at the time. She had been the one who had told the NC synod pastors, deacons, and deans that it would just be better for one person to die in this mess instead of many. Tammy questioned Jesus about his teaching, and he said, “Tammy, I’ve been teaching in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. They record me and put it on the internet. Nothing I’ve said is a secret. Have you listened to my preaching? Have you asked the people at Nativity in Arden? How about Grace in Hendersonville? They know what I said. Why are you asking me?” When one of the officers heard this, he punched Jesus and screamed at him, “Is that how you answer the Assistant to the Bishop?!” And Jesus replied, “Which part of what I said was untrue?”
Then Tammy had Jesus handcuffed and sent to Tim Smith, who was the bishop at the time. But they didn’t get anywhere with the bishop, so the officers and some of the pastors in the synod (Jennifer Krushas was among the pastors who were furious and going to get something done about this Jesus.) brought Jesus to Governor Cooper, who was in Asheville to oversee a major festival, and Governor Cooper asked them, “What are the charges you are bringing against this man?” They said, “Sir, seriously, would we be here if he weren’t a criminal?” Governor Cooper said, “This sounds like it’s a religious issue, so maybe you should go to the synod council and see about ecclesiastical censuring or whatever you folks do in cases like this.” But Jennifer spoke for the group and said, “Governor, we can’t. We need you in this case because according to church doctrine, we can’t kill him.”
So, Cooper went into his chambers where Jesus was waiting and asked him some questions, but he didn’t really get anywhere with him. Jesus evaded questions, not quite pleading the 5th, but Cooper couldn’t get the straight answers he needed. He went back out to the pastors and deacons and said, “I can’t actually find anything to charge him with. But, I was thinking, you know how you have that thing every year during the festival that one person gets pardoned? Let’s have it be him this year. What do you think?” Jennifer and the other pastors looked at each other, then looked back at Cooper and said, “Not Jesus. Give us William Marks this year. We know he’s a murderer, but set him free and keep Jesus for trial and the death penalty.”
So, Governor Cooper took Jesus and had him beaten. And when he was bleeding freely from open wounds, the officers put a robe on him, and they made a crown out of thorns and jammed it on his head, so he bled some more. He just stood there as they mockingly bowed before him and said sarcastically, “Hail, King! Hail, King!” and hit him about the head some more.
Then, Cooper brought Jesus out to Jennifer and the other pastors and deacons again. He was all bloody and bruised, his blood soaking through the purple robe and streaming down his face and neck from the crown of thorns. All Cooper said was, “Here he is,” and those pastors and deacons and deans (and it’s likely the bishop and his staff were present by now) screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!” And Cooper said, “YOU take him and kill him if you want it so badly.” And Jennifer shouted about how there is a law about claiming to be the Son of God, and that law carries the weight of the death penalty.
Cooper was kind of freaking out at that point, so he went over to Jesus and questioned him about where he’s from, and Jesus refused to answer at first, but then he started saying that he’s not from this world and weird stuff like that. So, Cooper kept trying to release Jesus, but the pastors and deacons and synod staff kept coming up with new reasons for Cooper to convict Jesus and sentence him to death. So, he said, “You really want me to kill your King?” And they put their shoulders back and said resolutely, “We have no religious king. Our allegiance is to our country and its leaders.” So, Governor Cooper handed Jesus over to Jennifer and the other Lutheran leaders, so they could have him killed.
And when he had died, a couple of guys who weren’t very churchy, who kind of only went to church on Christmas and Easter, and who didn’t have any “God Loves You” t-shirts or listen to K-Love on the radio, who were never on congregation council or acolytes or anything…but things Jesus had done and said had shifted things for them…they asked if they could take care of Jesus’ body, and Governor Cooper gave them permission.