About 200 of us from about a dozen churches spent much of Good Friday on the streets of Jersey City. We honored Jesus by observing the fourteen Stations of the Cross; and we also honored fourteen Jersey City residents whose lives were either taken or dramatically altered through gun violence. At each station, we told the story of Jesus and the story of a Jersey City resident who was shot at that particular site. At each station, a nail was hammered into the seven foot cross and holy water was sprinkled to bless the spot which had been violated by violence. We prayed. We sang. At the first station we laid hands on the mother of a Jersey City Police detective, who was gunned down last July in a Walgreens parking lot. At the same first station we also blessed the twenty or so JCPD officers who not only joined us on the walk but helped leaders of the three Episcopal Jersey City congregations plan the route.
It was a day of connection – between the ancient story of Jesus’ violent death and the far too many stories of contemporary lives taken by violence. Connection between the public and police – who walked and prayed together, and who began to build up levels of trust and solidarity that have been seriously undermined by incidents of police violence around the country. And connection between Christians from different denominations; and between churches and neighborhoods.
For generations, we have taken the story of Good Friday and brought it into our churches. This year’s witness in Jersey City convinced me – yet again, that we need to dramatize the Good Friday story on our streets, which is where Jesus’ journey happened in the first place. There is, I think, a temptation in all of us, to airbrush the violence out of the story. We do that, in part, by calling the day “good,” or by keeping the violence locked up in hymns or prayers inside our churches.
The violence Jesus went through was brutal, and it was very public. The gun violence in our culture is also brutal. Domestic violence is brutal. For the most part contemporary gun violence and domestic abuse are hidden from the public. By bringing the impact of violence out in the open, we make a public witness of hope and peace, and consecrate violated ground. And we continue the witness of Jesus, whose love faced violence — and whose life-giving sacrifice and Resurrection demonstrates that violence should never be the last word.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith
Diocese of Newark