Repenting Of Violence On The Way To The Cross

by Matt Sapp

Once a month our congregation gathers for REST: a midweek prayer and communion service on Wednesday evenings. We met for REST in February on Ash Wednesday, the same day that 17 students and teachers were killed in Parkland, FL. Last night, we met again for REST on the day that students all over the country demonstrated for an end to violence in their schools.

The following remarks are from our service yesterday evening.

When we last gathered for a REST service it was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent on our journey toward the cross. Tonight as we gather, with Easter barely more than two weeks away, the cross is considerably closer and looms considerably larger.

Two thousand years have sanitized the cross and made it seem safer than it really is.

The cross, we should remember, was a tool of violence—a blunt instrument of brutality. The cross was designed in part to make those who wielded it feel powerful and to make those who were its victims (and their families) feel powerless and defeated. And it was very effective at doing just exactly that.

Also, on the day we last gathered for REST, on Ash Wednesday, seventeen students and teachers were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. The gunman wielded a military assault rifle, an AR-15.

The AR-15, we should remember, is a tool of violence—a blunt instrument of brutality. The AR-15 is designed in part to make those who wield it feel powerful and to make those who are its victims (and their families) feel powerless and defeated. And it is very effective at doing just exactly that.

On the battlefield, that feeling of power on the one hand and defeatedness on the other may be a feature of the weapon; in the hallways of our schools, it most decidedly is not.

Today, one month later, we gather again for REST, and as we do, students all over our country have walked out of school to demand learning environments free from guns and the now ever-present threat of violence.

One such protest today took place outside the White House in Washington DC. Hundreds—maybe even thousands—of students gathered along the fence at the edge of the White House grounds and simply sat in silence.

I listened to their silence for a few minutes today. It was deafening.

As I watched, I participated in their stillness. It was haunting.

Tonight, here, as we sit in silence—as we sink deeper into our own stillness—my invitation to you is not to think about guns—but it is to think about violence.

About the violence of the cross. About the violence of our world. About the physical, mental and emotional violence we do to one another. About the violence the swirls even within our own hearts.

And to repent of it—to repent of all the ways that our responses to violence are different from God’s response to violence.

God does not participate in violence. Instead, at the cross God submitted God’s self to the very worst kinds of violence, so that we might be delivered from it—so that this world might one day rise above it.

At the cross and elsewhere, God is on the side of the afflicted, of those who suffer, of those who mourn, and of those who are made to feel powerless and defeated. Through the experience of the cross, God explicitly rejects violence--and its celebration--in favor of love.

At the cross and through the empty tomb, God proves that love is more powerful and more enduring than even the most hateful kinds of violence and the most effective implements of death.

As we journey toward the cross together, it’s worth remembering that God’s continuing mission of love that defeats violence begins in your own heart and mine.

Many of you will observe the Lord’s Supper together with other Christians between now and Easter. As you approach God’s table during the next few weeks, be reminded of the violence that plagues our world—it is, after all, a table of broken body and shed blood.

But be reminded, too, that it is also a table set by the Prince of Peace, and set for this particular purpose: to remind us that instruments of violence will never be the tools of God and will never have the last word in God’s kingdom.

See you Sunday.

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