Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preparing for Holy Week (Dialogue Column 3.11.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

Every year, the major weekly news magazines run cover stories about Jesus. Mark my words; it will be the same this year. I’ve gathered quite a collection over the years of Holy Week issues of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Reports. Usually, the stories are chock full of renaissance artwork depicting Jesus’ last days along with quotes from whichever writers or scholars will make the most sensational claims. Rarely, if ever, do these “special” issues say very much worthwhile or even anything new.

The questions asked in these magazines are not new ones. They are the same questions people have been asking about Jesus since he walked the Earth centuries ago. Is he just a madman? Is he just a political rabble-rouser? Is he just a wise teacher? Or is he something more than human? What the church has called the New Testament are writings constructed in large part to answer these types of questions. The writings of the church over the centuries can perhaps best be summed up as attempts to answer the question: “Who is Jesus?”

This is the question we are seeking answers to as we relive and reenact Jesus’ final days next week. Even as we ask the question, we know that no words, no scripture readings, no rituals and no songs can ever fully answer the question of “Who is Jesus?” for any of us. Indeed, each of us must find her or his own answer every time Holy Week comes around.

As we search for answers to the identity of Jesus during Holy Week, we learn about ourselves along the way. We realize anew the fickle nature of humanity. We take perverse pleasure in building up idols only to tear them down again, just as the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus and then screamed for his death a few days later. We see in vivid detail how fear can control even the most loyal souls, as we observe the disciples fleeing at Jesus’ arrest. We discover just how far we will go as humans to scapegoat the innocent in order to get ourselves off the hook. What we learn about ourselves during Holy Week is not easy to swallow.

In light of our self-awareness, what we see of Jesus during Holy Week is all the more amazing. We see Jesus forgiving the ones who mock and torture him. We see Jesus refusing to respond to violence with violence. We see Jesus choosing the hard road of faithfulness over the easy road of self-preservation. In short, we discover that Jesus demonstrates to us compassion rather than control, self-sacrifice rather than self-interest and love rather than hatred.

There is little, if any, need for a glossy cover story on Jesus that promises sensational revelations. The Jesus we encounter during Holy Week is sensational enough on his own.

Grace and Peace,

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