Holy Week Is for Real

It is Holy Week once again. I say “once again” because the stories have become so familiar that we gloss over them and get on with our petty daily lives. Too bad indeed when some disciplined reading the texts—lectio divina—would once again stir our hearts and rouse us to new life and action in the Spirit of the Living One—Isaiah’s HOLY ONE .
Isaiah had a mystical experience of the holy One in the Temple. It changed his life. Such numinous experiences including the Burning Bush are “H___ S____” scary moments. The Holy One always demands more than what we think we can do or give.
Peterson’s Message translation of Isaiah 7 puts a new light on Isaiah’s call and his relationship with the Holy One. Isaiah’s challenge is to the production empire of King Ahaz, where in today’s parlance the 1% is ripping off widows and orphans. The exploiter oppressors would truly misunderstand “the poor will always be with you” in today’s Gospel reading. Isaiah—poet prophet extraordinaire—faces severe challenges as he calls the people back to the Holy One. If a preacher today mounted the pulpit and told the congregation to examine their consciences and do what they can to bring justice to bear on an economy run amok, we can only imagine the rejection of the message as “politics.” Next week’s church revenues would be down significantly. Isaiah sticks to his guns. He will work to bring right order—justice–to the land. He will pursue the “victory of justice.” The Holy One—the Living One—does not call poet-prophets and not support them. The whole first section of Isaiah 7 is, “Isaiah, I have got your back.”
Enter Jesus into Bethany and time with his good friends—Lazarus, Martha and Mary. He has cleansed the Temple of those who would profit from taxes and tithes on Temple sacrifice. He has raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus has pissed off the Romans and their aristocratic priestly collaborators. The empire will strike back. The axe is going to fall. Jesus has drawn the line in the sand by going up to Jerusalem from Galilee. He knows what is going to happen is not going to be pleasant or pretty but, like Isaiah he knows that Abba has his back.
In his weekly column, Roger Karban, priest from Illinois teaches that Jesus is FULLY human as he goes through what we know call Holy Week. He is not play acting. What he is going to face is all to real for him—his humanity comes to the fore. “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me. I don’t want to drink the bitter dregs of suffering and death.” He cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Only at the end does he finally let go and surrender, “Abba, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Forget the divine stuff this week. Here is a fully human person. For him, like all humans, the angst of suffering and death—the human condition—is almost too much to endure.
Karban reminds us that it is not the physical suffering—thorns digging into his head, and the stinky soldier spittle in his eyes and running down his face. It is the psychological suffering that is so hard to bear. The dense disciples have often misunderstood Jesus. They, like us, will be at their worst this week. Having been taught nonviolence, one of them will take up the sword to defend Jesus. A greed-driven keeper of the purse will hand him over for thirty pieces of silver. A scared young disciple will be in such a hurry to get away that he will be naked as he leaves his garments in the clutches of the soldier pursuing him. Peter will once again be Simon as he slinks around the courtyard and, to save his own skin, denies knowing Jesus. As Jesus walks through the courtyard, he looks around. Where have all his friends gone? He feels total loss, total abandonment, and total rejection. Only the faithful women followers will be near but from a distance.
[BTW, the correct reading of the poor always with you is, “This woman has prepared me for my death. After this event, you will have plenty of opportunities to take care of the needs of the poor.”]
This week I really do not want to hear nay more “Jesus did all this to save us from our sins.” Anselm’s substitutionary sacrifice theory has to go for good. The myth of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac is that child sacrifice, as practice by Israel’s neighbors, is not acceptable. What Holy One or Living One would demand that the son die to atone for our sins. The myth of Paradise is just that. Evolutionary theory clearly shows that we and creation have never been in a perfected state. The paradise story serves a deeper purpose as an explanation for the presence of evil—imperfection–in creation.
Richard Rohr says that Jesus dies, not because of our sins, but with our sins.
This common phrase [died for our sins] used by Christians, and first used in the letters of Paul, has caused a lot of confusion. It is as if our sinfulness caused him to be killed and his dying caused God to love us. It leaves us very guilty, usually grateful, but not really empowered or transformed.  Redemption is something we “watch” more than participate in.
The Western mind prefers to  interpret things “instrumentally” that is, in terms of cause and effect  This is what Scholastic philosophy called an “efficient cause”, but it is not really helpful in understanding spiritual things.  It is too linear, mechanical, and never gets close to the multilayered mystery of any event, least of all something as profound as this.  Redemption becomes a kind of heavenly transaction between Jesus and God but we are not really in on the deal. It happened then but not also now.  I might be grateful but I am not really engaged.
So try this:  “Christ died for our sins” means that he died in solidarity with– and in loving communion with–all human failure, mistakes, and absurdity–and thus made them non-absurd!  (“With our sins” might be the more helpful preposition than “for our sins”.)  All human suffering and even our failures can henceforth be seen as part of the entire mystery of transformation into God.  Thus he rightly renamed (“redeemed”?) the dark side of everything, which is what always discourages and defeats us.  Now we can be both grateful and highly motivated.  Life and death are both good!   We are now participants instead of spectators.  We are still very grateful but now gratitude is the very ground floor of our universe, because nothiing, absolutely nothing is wasted in the Divine Economy of Grace.  All of your life and all of your dyings are indeed part of the deal!
“Let me tell you a secret:  “We are not going to die, but we will all be changed”  (1 Corinthians 15:51)
The crucifixion represents the worst of human greed, self seeking and depravity.  The powers and principalities rule!
Jesus bore the full impact of the human condition on the cross. The overarching meta-myth in the Bible is a story about us always striving to become more than what we are. We were at our worst during the events of Holy Week.
What then is he significance of Jesus’ death on the cross?  Jesus came to teach us how to live for others. This a the story about what happens when we let go, let God and live for others. When we risk living authentically—self for others—we put it on the line. We, knowing that the Living One has our backs and that life comes from death to our false self, know that our mission is to serve one another—to wash one another’s feet in Holy Thursday parlance. Life in the Risen Christ is all about death to self and coming to new life in the Holy One—we are in process of becoming more than we are as we enter into relationship to establish right relationship—justice on earth.

Leave a Reply