For most Christians this is Holy Week, the Week of Christ’s Passion, encompassing four of the most important events in the life of Jesus: his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) a few days before Passover; his last supper, the seder of Passover, which he transformed into the Sacrament of His Body and Blood (Maundy Thursday, including washing his disciples’ dirty feet); his execution nailed to a cross (Good Friday); and his returning to life, the Feast of the Resurrection, or Easter Day.
It’s a difficult week for people who take this seriously. It ends well, but getting to the end is hard work.
Late last night David, a member of my Daily Office prayer group on Facebook, sent me a wonderful message. He’s an elderly fellow, a Gay guy in Texas by way of New England, and he’d been to the Palm Sunday mass that morning. He wrote:
12:55 am CDT 04/02/012 I hope you are resting…Just had to BLAB….After all these years , I finally “GOT” what Palm Sunday is all about…The music was awesome…not the point..The processing with the children was awesome…NOT the point…when we all read the gospel, OUT LOUD, and in unison…I realized that I was there that day, throwing palms down, demanding that Jesus be crucified, watching Him die for me…. I was there just as certainly as the whole human race..That’s so neat..Praise God..!
I remember where I was (Church of Our Saviour, Cincinnati) the first time I had to shout, “Crucify him!” It was shattering.
I’m very glad for your experience this year, and happy you told me about it. “Music awesome… not the point.”
It really is a privilege to receive messages like David’s – one of the unanticipated side benefits to me of running the group.
He’s referring to the practice in many Episcopal churches of making the congregation read aloud the Gospel lesson, recounting the crucifixion. Normally a deacon or priest reads the lesson from one of the Gospel books, but Palm Sunday is different: everyone reads together. This year the reading was from Mark. The climactic verses (Mark 15:12-14) are these: picture the congregation acting as a mob.
Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”
The point David referred to is this: we’re the ones who crucify Jesus, and we do it every day, every year. Sin crucifies him; sinners do, and that’s us. We’re not always the active ones with the hammer and nails, but, y’know, we employ “little people” for that. Politicians, for instance.
It’s a very difficult thing to realize we are sinners – partly because the term has been so corrupted, narrowed and dumbed down by fundamentalist preachers that everyone thinks “sin” mostly amounts to whatever kind of sex somebody else doesn’t like. Sexual sin is real, but it’s not always consequential, and God is a lot less concerned about our sex lives, or that mean thing you said to Aunt Mildred last Thursday, than about the economic, political and military injustices we participate in. The prophets of the Old Testament were horrified by the injustices they saw in the world around them – especially the complete abandonment of women whose husbands had died, leaving widows and orphans to beg in the streets.
Judaism is a patriarchal religion. But God’s condemnation of Israel’s sexism is 3000 years old. The very first stirrings of “feminism” arise in the Hebrew Bible (and Jesus was a Jew).
(Sidebar: you can see the same mistreatment of women in other religions; Hindu widows used to throw themselves on their late husbands’ funeral pyres, not just to mourn them publicly, but to spare themselves from a life of beggary and degradation. Fortunately this is illegal in India now.)
Thus sin is mostly about the destructive behavior of human institutions, though it also has a personal aspect that must never be discounted.
Put it this way: a Wall Street banker makes decisions, motivated by greed, which result in destroying 40% of the world economy. Meanwhile he’s also having an affair with his secretary (or his gym buddy). Which sin do you think matters more?
If the only religious mistake fundamentalists made was being anti-Gay, we could be allies on everything else. But no, they’re also gung-ho for war and the Greedy Old Party.
So this year on dailyoffice.org, I’m showing contemporary “sin pictures” for Holy Week. This morning I started with the murder of Shaima Alawadi, the Iraqi-born mother of five who fled Saddam Hussein in 1994, only to be bludgeoned to death in her California home last week by a Muslim-hating American.
Here’s her husband in mourning.
This evening we’ve got a picture of mountaintop removal in West Virginia. I’ll reproduce the caption just as I wrote it on dailyoffice.org.
Tomorrow we get two horrors of the war in Afghanistan. The pictures aren’t gory, but they’re dramatic. And each time I let the guilty parties have it, in the words I write. I’m no prophet, these are strictly my opinions, but I’ve got so fed up TO HERE that I can’t keep quiet anymore. If anyone doesn’t like it, I don’t care.
But I have had to make one adjustment to hang onto my sanity and cling to hope: no more commenting on political news, anti-Gay or otherwise, on the websites of my home state newspapers. I’ve read them both since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (thank you, Mom, for making sure we were a newspaper-reading family), but I can’t take it anymore, so I’ve removed both sites from my bookmarks. Going there isn’t good for me. I write my comments to be very punchy – they usually get a lot of responses, pro and con – but they lead to feelings of bitterness in me, and they drain my energy.
The world is a screwed-up place. Get used to it.
Sin is all around us. Pray about it, repent of it, and learn to forgive the perpetrators, difficult though that is.
We are all perpetrators; here’s a chart, also running this evening, about mountaintop removal – and I benefit from cheap electricity too.
If you want to see crucifixion, you don’t have to go back 2000 years. Just look around you, it’s everywhere.
But remember that God has redeemed it all. Cling to hope. In a way this isn’t even about religion; it’s a beautiful world we live in, despite all our efforts to destroy it.
As a commenter said, more cleverly than I, on one of those newspaper sites:
My dog is pretty good most of the time, and he doesn’t even read the Bible.
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