Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why Bother With Holy Week? (Dialogue Column 3.18.08)

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 it’s the same thing. We process in on Palm Sunday, we read of Jesus’ last night on Maundy Thursday, perhaps we hear Jesus’ last words on Good Friday and then we celebrate on Easter Sunday. This is difficult stuff we remember and reenact each year. Until Easter morning at least, the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, torture and death is pretty depressing stuff. Why bother with it each year? Why not just skip to Easter?

For many Christians, the answer to my questions would involve something about Jesus’ suffering and death taking away our sins. They would speak of the Christian doctrine of atonement and quote scriptures that declare Christ takes on the punishment due us for our selfish and disobedient actions. There is good cause for believers to emphasize such beliefs. For most Christians they remain essential and orthodox articles of faith.

I guess you can call me a heretic.

I remain confused and uncertain about the mechanics of the cosmological implications of Jesus’ death on the cross. Oh, I believe that something happened there on the cross which changed the universe; I’m just uncertain about how it occurred and whether or not a loving God needs blood before that same God will forgive us. I grew up singing hymns about the blood of Christ and memorizing verses about Jesus being like the sacrificial lamb of the Jewish festival of Passover. There’s a strong case from scripture to be made for this kind of thinking. It just doesn’t do much for me, and it raises a lot more troubling issues, in my opinion.

For me, the traditions of Holy Week remain essential for a whole lot of reasons, even if I’m not a big fan of blood atonement theology. I may be a heretic on some fronts, but on others I sound downright orthodox; for instance, due to my understanding of the Trinity, I believe it was God on that cross. I believe that the cross reveals the lengths that God will go to in order to demonstrate God’s love for us, God’s efforts to identify with our own pain and suffering and God’s unwillingness to respond to violent hatred with more of the same. Furthermore, I believe that in the torture and killing of the ultimate innocent person, Jesus Christ, all of the violence we humans commit is exposed as sinful and ultimately dehumanizing to both victims and perpetrators. Finally, I believe that the God who died on that cross on the original Good Friday is the same God who can take whatever awful nastiness we humans can create and overcome it in order to save us from ourselves.

Despite what critics of Christianity may say and what adherents of the so-called “prosperity Gospel” may preach on television, I believe that Christianity, at its heart, is an honest religion. It is honest about the propensity for humans to commit cruel acts upon one another and the tendency of humans to believe they really can control, as if they were gods, the power of life and death. Christianity acknowledges these failings in humanity and asks us to believe that God is greater even than them. In a violent world—a world of genocide, war, crime and desecration—Christianity does not ignore the awful reality that we sometimes find ourselves in. Neither does it leave us there; it also offers us a way out.

We bother with Holy Week to be reminded of just how much we need God.

Grace and Peace,


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