Tag Archives: Holy Week
Everything is falling down, but we try to preserve it, to build back, to add our own layer, to add our own wall to the project that is never finished. We pass what we love along, hand to hand, in a great chain whose links all die before the treasure ever reaches safety.
Jesus does not enter this world, or this holy city, as a violent revolutionary or a conquering general. He offers his followers no visible protection and no obvious victory. He enters this world where power alone rules, and where morality, law, and justice are just bedtime stories we tell to hide the truth, as a very different kind of King.
I used to think that human beings were the only creatures—aside from the angels—that worshiped. That we lived in this vast silent dead universe, and only our tiny songs of praise were the only worship that filled it up.
I think I was wrong about that. Now I suspect that we’re the only creatures that don’t worship. That cease from worship.
A colleague of mine, writing about the process whereby adults are received into the Catholic Church, reports that most people go through it for their spouse or spouse-to-be. But she has met others who have started inquiring about the church out of their battle with an addiction, or because they read a novel by Graham Greene at an impressionable age. People discover yearnings that they never learned a vocabulary to express; or they might need a new beginning, or a way to identify with something outside of themselves. Whatever you may think of those motives, they are perennial. Whatever you may think of the church, it has a ritual in which they can be given a place.
And as dreadful as this scene is, the more dreadful thought is that Jesus allows us to turn away and put it out of mind. Golgotha is only one little hill in one city, after all. Tomorrow Pontius Pilate will have a full agenda to get through at his headquarters. Tomorrow there will be work to do. There will be children to care for. There will be prayers to say. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life, and nothing would be simpler than to look away from the dead gaze. Nothing would be easier than to say, “I don’t buy it.” If we bought it, our whole lives would fall apart. Our whole world would be broken down piece by piece and put back together in a totally new way. It is wiser, more realistic, to walk down the hill, get some rest, and make our own arrangements.
Here’s a cheerful question for Good Friday: Should Christians flee a deadly plague?
We may not have had occasion to ask ourselves this. We do have to think about how to manage our own viral infections and those of others. We watch helplessly as a stomach flu or cold rips through a whole household. More and more we are faced with outbreaks of things like Ebola or Zika, and we have to ask how to rightly respond to them.
But deadly plagues were a constant feature of life before modern sanitation and antibiotics. And so it happened that Martin Luther was asked, in 1527, whether a Christian was allowed to flee a city that had an outbreak of a deadly disease in a German city.
A way out is suddenly there for the grasping. Beyond this question lies the return of lost disciples. Beyond this question lies a warm bed for a man who hasn’t slept and a hearty meal for a man who hasn’t eaten. Beyond this question is another chance, another day, the opportunity to piece together some of what has been lost, if only you can satisfy this sophisticated and vicious man’s curiosity, if only you can give him what he asks for, if only you can become more valuable to him as a living guru than as a dead rebel. If only you can be a successful philosopher instead of a failed prophet.
And the answer Jesus gives in his moment of direst need is—nothing.
Today Jesus walks fully and finally into the human desire for death and destruction. There is, after all, nothing so unusual about this story on the face of it. There is nothing unusual about the oppression of an empire. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in a mob screaming for blood. Jesus was not the first person to be betrayed, denied, and abandoned. He was not the first person to be flogged and mocked and broken. He was not the first person, nor would he be the last, to hang from a tree as a sign that no one was safe from the powers that rule the world. The sin that crushed Jesus was not new, and it has not yet grown old. Human beings still love death and destruction. We crave it. We’re doing it all over the world right now–for gods or nations, for security or pride. Jesus was just one of the countless victims we humans have created.
Throughout all of Lent, we have heard about Jesus’s great and good deeds among his friends. We have heard of the hope that lingers even in bad times because a community of love still exists. We have treasured the good news God brings us through family, through the fellowship of believers, through the gifts of food and forgiveness that we must all give and receive throughout our lives. We have kept our faith because we are not alone, because life goes on and God’s blessings with it.
But not today. Not on Long Friday, Sorrowful Friday. Today there is no moral to the story. There is no gentle blessing. There is no meal shared among friends throughout the ages. There is no community that endures. Today I wish to let us sit, for a moment, with the grief and fear of the disciples. Today, for a moment, let us allow it to be finished.
God is strange. You can glimpse him once, in a flash. You can sense his presence for a season of your life, and then spend years chasing after him. You can feel him, almost see him plain as day. But then, while everything looks the same, you can’t see God any more. The living room is exactly the way it was, but dad is gone. I’ve met burned-out veterans of this chase for God. They wanted to see what they believed in, or had been told to believe in. And they tried. They tried hard. They tried to guess the password that would open the door, they tried to push the right buttons in the right order, they tried to find the missing clue that would solve the puzzle. But the door never swung back open, the lock never unbuckled, the puzzle never snapped back into focus. A lot of them give up. I don’t blame them.