I will use this single post and update it daily.
Wasn’t that something? Everyone was there. Well, everyone who was anyone. We were all there. We who follow Jesus. There were a whole lot of folk around us looking at us like we had lost our minds. But some of them joined in too. It was frenetic. The tension was so high. And when it was over, we knew that it wasn’t really over. The multi-voice reading of the Passion is an important catechetical and liturgical practice. Yet this year it felt like too much, too soon. I wanted it to end with the procession of palms and not go forward into what was coming next. That is my general sense of Holy Week, rushing past one day’s opportunity for contemplation and reflection to another’s cataclysm. Today’s readings point us towards the God who gathers and shepherds Israel in a different kind of procession, a return to home with all its complications and, the ultimate and final gathering of all her exiles. The psalm invokes the saving help of the God who hears and who shepherds Israel. One might imagine these readings on the lips of the Jewish community in Jerusalem and those around Jesus. The epistle is forward in time when the Jesus story has turned out alright, when the important questions have been answered and it is a thing of beauty and joy at which to marvel. But it is too soon for that. The gospel reading bears witness to a woman’s tender touch anointing Jesus. Later, it will be easy to read as a signpost but in the moment it raises questions and perhaps even objections and does nothing to resolve the tension lingering from yesterday’s parade with palms and now growing. Something is happening here…
Tuesday: Moving On
Sunday is becoming one of those memories that lingers. But there is work to do. Passover is coming and there are preparations to make. Company is coming whether we are ready or not. This year, as the year before and the year before that we will tell the story and wonder why the God of Miriam has not driven these Romans into the sea. Where is our miracle? The first reading expresses frustration and a sense of futility in response to which God assures that God is working to gather her people. It requires no imagination to hear the psalm prayed by Jews living under Roman occupation, “we have had enough.” In the epistle, the church is experiencing its own occupation. Unfortunately it will like many occupied peoples and nations, have a very short memory and in turn become an oppressor. And Jesus, perhaps fully cognizant that his time is growing short, lashes out in frustration at what he sees in the temple. Time marches on…
Wednesday: An Ancient Hope
From the choking dust and still smouldering ashes of the fallen Judean monarchy Ezekiel saw visions of continued life, hope and national resurrection. That hope endured and was confirmed during the Maccabean revolt and their brief period of sovereignty. And now, under Roman occupation, the people turn once again to their ancient hope. The psalm speaks of a God who is light and love and above all, whose love is faithful. The epistle insists that as God is life, light and love, we who are God’s children must also be characterized by light and love and, that in that is our strength to resist and overcome evil. In the gospel reading appointed for today, Jesus grieves deeply for the mother city Jerusalem that is also the daughter city of God. He grieves for her people, God’s children, his sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, cousins and kinfolk, and wishes that he could wrap his arms around them as a mother hen wraps her wings around her chicks. His love is poignant and prescient because Jerusalem is, in his words, a city that kills her prophets. There’s something different about Jesus lately. Have you seen him? He doesn’t seem to laugh or smile as much. There is a shadow in his eyes. I don’t believe he will be with us long. The shadow of death is following him…
Everyone and everything is moving 1000 miles an hour. There is so much to do. Where did the time go? Amid the preparations, infectious contagious joy. Joy in the presence of family and friends and new babies since last year. Laughter in the kitchen but also stress as everyone has an opinion and relatives take liberties that other guests do not. The children are excited and running around and under foot. The men are sitting and talking and smoking and too busy to help. But the joy of the festival is irresistible and irrepressible. But this year seems different. There has been political unrest, more than usual. They always crack down on us at this time of year just to show they can. I’m trying to keep the young men out of the street after dark but they just say, “Aunty, you worry too much.” They don’t know how easily it can all go bad. Exodus and Easter, Pesach and the Paschal feast overlap literarily, liturgically and temporally. Each is a story of God’s liberating salvation through a horrific act of violence. As a result, many of us have developed theologies in which the violence itself becomes salvific, virtually sacramental. Passing through the waters of the year accompanied by A Women’s Lectionary provides an opportunity to reconsider those theologies rooted in power, hierarchy and, violence. As tonight’s (literary) celebration turns to sorrow, let us remember that God weaves tapestries of redemption out of the broken and bloody pieces of our lives but does not require us or our brother Jesus to be brutalized to save and redeem. There is no such limit on her power or her grace.
The horror of the crucifixion is the horror of torture and execution cast in politically expedient and theological terms. Sometimes it seems as if the glory of the incarnation has blinded us to the horror of the crucifixion. Too many of our theologies and preaching focus on the specialness of Jesus as the child of God, as God in warm brown human skin, as the innocent recipient of this brutality, making it in the words of Phyllis Tribble, “an extravagance of violence.”* What we seem to be saying is that this atrocity is atrocious because it was Jesus or especially because it was Jesus. And he was innocent, blameless, sinless. The horror is human beings using a choreographed lynching spectacle of death to further political, personal, fiscal, religious, corporate and national ends. Seizing the prerogative of God to measure the span of a human life for themselves and wielding it as a weapon. And continuing to do so. The day Jesus was crucified was just one Friday in that month. He was just one of dozens or hundreds that month and hundreds or thousands that year. Someone else, some other mother’s son or daughter could have been crucified the very next day. (Though not a Jewish one lest there be a riot.) There would be a next and, a next. That is the horror of the crucifixion, the horror of human beings using pain and humiliation and torture and death as weapons of statecraft and theology. And that horror endures. The murder of Jesus framed in sacrificial terms is paired with the murder of the daughter of Jephthah — not given the dignity of a name – also framed in sacrificial terms. They are equally grotesque as is theology that equates God with Jephthah, butchering his son for a religious sacrifice. At the end of the day, these mother’s children are dead. Their lifeless bodies profaned and savaged by the weapons of warfare and policing. These families are going home without their children and, with sights and sounds and that they can never erase from their memories.
*She uses those words as an epitaph for the Levite’s butchered wife in judges 19.
There was no sleep. There will be no rest. The festival is going on around us but all I can see, hear, smell and taste is the horror of yesterday. Three hours of agony after a night of worry. The sound of the crowd was deafening but I could still hear every blow of the hammer. And when it was over – it will never be over – it was even worse. We kept hoping for a miracle, for him to raise his head and speak words of power and tear that whole place down. But he just hung there. And when his body sagged so hard the nails began to pull and tear, I knew he was dead. Without the crowds there was no noise to block the sound of the weight of his body falling onto that man when they took him down, or the sound of his flesh squelching when they pulled the nails back out. And then there is the smell of death, blood and piss and shit. I can still smell it, mingling with the scent of roasted lamb. Vomit and tears. The bitterness of Passover with none of the sweet. Then I woke up, finding some sleep after all and it was all true. And he is dead. Dead and gone. And tonight and tomorrow and the day after that he will still be gone. I don’t know that I want to live in a world without him. Not after he showed us what was possible. I can’t forget that either. Dead. The word keeps ringing in my head like the blow of a hammer. Dead today. Dead tomorrow. Dead and gone.