Good Friday and Contemporary Crucifixion: 7 Last Words of Black Life

On Good Friday, we remember the cross, the act of crucifixion, the selfless sacrifice, the complicity, the fleshy vulnerability of God-with-us, the cancellation of debts, the lamentations of the world.

We kiss the wood. We touch the nails. We let the crownish thorns prick the soft underbelly of our souls. We weep–for ourselves, for our world, for all that is not as God would have it be.

Let our lamentation be prophetic. In lamentation, write Walter Brueggemann, “there is a sense of forsakenness with none to comfort, with a yearning for mercy, but only a yearning. Israel must be grieved and not too soon can there be a word beyond grief.”

One Good Friday practice is meditation on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. The tradition was begun in the 17th century by a Jesuit priest, Alonso Messia (1665-1732), in Peru as a three-hour devotion for his communities after they had suffered a series of severe earthquakes. From 12-3p on Good Friday, they prayed and meditated on the words Jesus spoke while on the cross, concluding at 3 p.m. with, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

On this Good Friday in 2018, the First Congregational Church of Oakland (CA) will host the “7 Last Words of Black Life”–put into sharp focus with the recent killing of Stephon Clark by police in Sacramento.

The Seven Last Words of Black Life:

“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” -Michael Brown (1996-2014)
“What are you following me for? ” -Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)
“How did switching lanes with no signal turn into this?” -Sandra Bland (1987-2015)
“I wasn’t reaching for it.” -Philando Castile (1983-2016)
“You shot me. You shot me.” -Oscar Grant (1982 – 2009)

First Congregational Church of Oakland writes, “We believe that Black people in America are the contemporary crucified life. In observance of Good Friday, we will be holding a service honoring, grieving and lamenting crucified Black Life. We will bear witness to the last words of those crucified at the hands of police brutality, racism and state sanctioned violence. This Good Friday, we will honor the final moments of Jesus’ earthly life through seven of our fallen. We will honor them through word, song and art.” (See below for more actions taken by the First Congregational Church of Oakland.)

In the United States, “the cross and the lynching tree” have been the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African-American community, according to theologian James Cone. Now, on this Good Friday, we meditate on, grieve, and lament on “the cross and body bags with evidence markers.”

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Amen.

 

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CHURCH DIVESTS FROM POLICING, INVESTS IN COMMUNITY SAFETY OAKLAND, CA – Friday, March 30, 2018 — On Good Friday, the day that Christians remember the murder of Jesus by the Roman state, First Congregational Church of Oakland (FCCO) will honor the memory of all people killed by state forces by declaring its intention to reduce reliance on policing and incarceration and develop community-based safety and conflict resolution initiatives.

Citing the ongoing killing of unarmed people by local police—especially Black and Brown people, many of them with mental illness—the church on the corner of 27th and Harrison will formally pledge to “reimagine our policies, procedures, and relationships to our neighbors in order to reduce our reliance on policing that is too often deadly for those already marginalized.” It will further seek “to contribute to restorative/transformative approaches to addressing harm, and to increase our capacity to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.”

The multiracial church recently received a grant from the San Francisco Foundation’s FAITHS initiative to create a network of organizations and individuals committed to divesting from militarized policing and mass incarceration and investing in mental health and addiction intervention, violence prevention and de-escalation, self- and community-defense, and transformative justice processes.

First Congregational Church of Oakland’s Good Friday declaration is part of a national campaign organized through Showing Up for Racial Justice. The full text of FCCO’s declaration can be found here.

The public release of the declaration will be followed by a Good Friday worship service called “7 Last Words of Black Life,” in which preachers will address the last words of seven Black or Brown people killed by police: Korryn Gaines, Raynette Turner, Eric Garner, Kayla Moore, Alex Nieto, Alan Blueford and Aiyana Jones.[]

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