STRANGE FRUIT: The Seven Last Words of Jesus is a worship experience to remember the crucifixion of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament Gospels through preaching, poetry and music from the singer, songwriter and activist, Nina Simone.
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is the day of the year when Christians turn their attention to the incarceration and execution of Jesus at the hands of the Roman government some 2,000 years ago. Jesus was jailed and executed by a criminal justice system that practiced injustice toward the poor and vulnerable. Today, more than two-millennia later, through slavery, Jim Crow and ‘The New Jim Crow’, members of African-American communities know intimately what it means to suffer from oppressive criminal justice systems.
What are the Seven Last Words?
The Seven Last Words of Jesus, or the Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross, are the seven last sayings of Jesus before his death as recorded in the four New Testament Gospels. The words are:
- Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
- Woman, behold your son: behold your mother. (John 19:26-27)
- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
- I thirst. (John 19:28)
- It is finished. (John 19:30)
- Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
More information on Good Friday/Seven Last Words, see African American Lectionary: Good Friday.
Why Nina Simone?
Nina Simone is one of the most important voices of the 20th century. While her musical catalog encompasses jazz, folk, European classical, blues and gospel music, the “High Priestess of Soul” constantly strived to express the depth of the human need for freedom personally, romantically and politically.
Today, Nina Simone’s music is as popular as ever as she has inspired and been sampled by hip-hop artists ranging from Lauryn Hill to Lil’ Wayne, can be heard on television shows such as True Blood, Luther (starring Idris Elba) and Scandal (starring Kerry Washington), and a (controversial) major motion picture about her life starring Zoe Saldana is in production.
Why Strange Fruit?
Originally recorded by Billie Holiday (1939) and later covered by Nina Simone (1965), Strange Fruit was written in in response to the lynchings of black people in the southern United States. While most Christians understand the crucifixion of Jesus as necessary to redeem humankind from sin, we often fail to observe the similarities between incarceration and crucifixion in Jesus’ time, lynchings in the American past and mass incarceration of people of color today.
In the tradition of the Negro Spirituals (Were You There When they Crucified My Lord?, Go Down Moses, etc), Strange Fruit is a bold lamentation that yet challenges us to stand up and advocate for the freedom of all God’s children despite the efforts to criminalize the poor and marginalized.