* Passion (Palm) Sunday and Good Friday Gospel
Our deeply personal and communal connection to the Passion of Jesus Christ is so important to our Christian identity and spirituality that the Church asks us to meditate on it twice during Holy Week. Today we listen to and reflect on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (in other years to Matthew and Luke), and on Good Friday we always have the Passion according to John. This yearly meditation draws us beyond the question of who historically is responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus into the realization that we are all ultimately responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus.
The combination of Roman involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus (only Rome could issue a sentence of death legally, and crucifixion is a Roman form of execution) with a portion of the Jewish leadership at the time has led to two significant misuses of the passion narratives. The most common misuse over the centuries has been for Christians to blame “the Jews” for Jesus’ death. Such an understanding has led Christians to justify their own evil, mistreatment of Jewish people. You cannot read the details of the history of Christian mistreatment of Jewish communities and not feel, as a Christian, deep anger and disgust for what so-called Christian people have done “in the name of Christ.” In particular, the gospel of John consistently uses the term “the Jews” in a negative and not-historically-accurate way, as though Jesus himself and all the disciples and followers were not themselves Jewish men. By setting Jesus and the disciples in opposition to the literary straw man “the Jews,” John’s gospel has been misused again and again by Christian preachers. In more recent years another misunderstanding/misuse of the Passion narratives has become common—to portray Jesus as a political revolutionary, for example, an anti-government sympathizer of the Zealot group that believed in overthrowing Roman rule. It takes a great deal of imagination to turn the Jesus of the gospels into an active, fomenting revolutionary. But it plays well for television drama.
In point of fact, Jesus was a prophetic figure for the people of Judea and Galilee. His words and actions were in harmony with previous prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Prophets, in the name of God, challenge the people to live by the covenant God has made with them—to be God’s people, light to the world. Prophets often lived socially marginal lives. They often did dramatic gestures (think of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple) not as revolutionaries but as a way to bring home who God was asking the people to be. Prophets were radical and even fierce in their loyalty to the type of life God’s covenant asked people to live. What Jesus added to this prophetic role was a recognition that in his own person and words and actions, the very kingdom of God was breaking into the world in a new, definitive way. He was not just a prophet like others who was pointing to the covenant. As beloved Son, he was the very covenant of God in the flesh, who was making known the definitive, final (what theology calls eschatological) reality of that covenant for all humanity.
That is why the Church understands the responsibility for Jesus’ death as the responsibility of all of us, Christian and Jew, believer and atheist, all humanity. The passion narratives are theological accounts which use historical details but are not trying to paint an historical biography. When John’s gospel uses the term “the Jews” as people unable to really see and hear the deep truth of Jesus as Word made flesh, that term refers to us and all the ways we separate ourselves from Jesus. As we proclaim the Passion Narratives today and Friday, there are portions we are all asked to say. Note that most of these correspond to those calling for the death of Jesus. These are deliberately said by all of us, because they belong to all of us. Jesus’ death was not the death of a zealot or a leader of some revolution. Jesus death is not the fault of one group of people defined by their religion. Jesus’ death came about because of the human tendency to scapegoat others rather than transform ourselves and the world into places of justice, love and mercy. Jesus called the people of his day and calls the people of our day to that transformation as the way or rule or kingdom of God. But hearts got/get hardened; power got/gets protected; choices got/get made. Innocent people, like Jesus then and like others now, get crucified by all of us due to our complicity with the sin and evil in the world.
*Participating in the Holy Week and Easter Celebrations
Please come to any or all of the upcoming celebrations. They form the heart of all that we are as the Body of Christ. The church is marked out for social distancing. Masks are required. When hymnals are used, they have been sanitized, and we will keep a count of the people so that no liturgy goes beyond our maximum safe capacity (225-250 depending on the size of families). Please note: there will be no reservation of seats, so it is best to come a bit early. We will livestream Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday 10 a.m. and Communion will be available in the parking lot. We will also turn on the livestream at any other celebration that reaches the maximum safe capacity. When you do enter the church, you might be escorted to specific seats, if necessary. It is best, for example, that a group of 5-7 take up a whole pew nearer the front rather than a longer pew in the back; or someone who is alone, or a couple, sit on the ends of the shorter pews rather than the longer ones. This will allow us to use the longer back pews for two groups of 3-5 in those pews. We need to get back to more in-person celebrations and there are no better liturgies to do so than the upcoming ones of Holy Week and Easter.