Where Innocence Dies Young [Good Friday]



The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
John's Passion

Where Innocence Dies Young

There is a sadness here – in this space we call Good Friday.  It hangs in the air, an innocence so brutally assaulted by the pain and the struggle, the envy and the prejudice, the hatred and the violence of our world.  And we pray that it will pass; we pray for the pain to be overcome by God's Easter answer.  And as we wait, we find ourselves confronted by the harsh reality that in this world innocence too often dies young.  And I am reminded of a poem a young black optometrist, Frank Horne, wrote in the deep South of the 1920's, a poem he called On Seeing Two Brown Boys in a Catholic Church:

It is fitting that you be here,
Little brown boys
With Christ-like eyes
And curling hair.

Look you on yonder crucifix
Where He hangs nailed and pierced
With head hung low
And eyes all blind with blood that drips
From a thorny crown...
Look you well,
You shall know this thing.

Judas' kiss shall burn your cheek
And you will be denied
By your Peter -

And Gethsemane...
You shall know full well...
Gethsemane...

You, too, will suffer under Pontius Pilate
And feel the rugged cut of rough-hewn cross
Upon your surging shoulder -

They will spit in your face
And laugh...
They will nail you up twixt thieves
And gamble for your garments.

And in this you will exceed God
For on this earth
You shall know Hell -

O little brown boys
With Christ-like eyes
And curling hair,
It is fitting that you be here.[1]  

There is a sadness here – in this space we call Good Friday.  That man on the cross, he was once a child too – like me and you and those little brown boys in Horne's poem.  For a moment, just new with innocent eyes, a simple, unblemished beauty – worried only about milk and love and feeling the warmth of human skin.  For a moment that beauty is untouched by the pain and the struggle, untouched by the envy and the prejudice, untouched by the hatred and the violence of our world. 

And for a moment it seems as if any future is possible, as if the possibilities are limitless.  And we like to believe that.  But not every parent gets to see a world of possibility laid out before their children.  Sometimes all a parent's love can muster is a hope of survival.  Because there are places from which too few ever get out: too few get out of the old deep South, too few get out of the gang-infested neighborhood, too few get out of the war torn village, too few get out without food or water or shelter.  Sometimes survival is the big dream.  Because sometimes all of that innocence is born into a hostile environment where innocence dies young.

Some mothers have to look at their babies with a unquenchable sense of dread.  Jesus' mother was one of those mothers.  Her baby was hunted from the day he was born.  Her baby was an exile.  Her baby inspired prophecies – devastating prophecies: This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.  And Mary, please know, a sword will pierce your own soul too.  So much innocence born into a hostile environment where innocence dies young.

Mother Mary's little brown boy hangs nailed and pierced
With head hung low
And eyes all blind with blood that drips
From a thorny crown...

And today we weep.  And we mourn – because his beauty hangs so disfigured, spoiled by the pain and the struggle, by the envy and the prejudice, by the hatred and the violence of our world.  And we weep. And we mourn – because he wasn't the last to be so spoiled.  And we weep.  And we mourn – because in this very moment a beautifully innocent child is born into a hostile environment where innocence dies young.

But as we weep and mourn we also wait.  In the pain and the struggle, in the envy and the prejudice, in the hatred and the violence, in the shadow of the Cross: we wait for God's Easter answer. 
 


[1]   3000 Years of Black Poetry, 212.

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