Wednesday in Holy Week

If betrayal is so deep a part of human sin, and so profoundly entangled also with the story of love and salvation, then it cannot actually be betrayal per se that must be repressed or obliterated in the Passion. Rather, what is held up to us is the amazing possibility that even betraying, as well as being betrayed, can become part of the terrible stuff of being “handed over” to the full and deepest meaning of Christian love. God can make love, excessive love, even out of human betrayal. On this view Judas’s tragedy was that – unlike Peter – he despaired of that possibility; he could not conceive of that excessive sort of forgiveness.

–Sarah Coakley (more here)

Tuesday in Holy Week

We now stand in this lush fragrance of the ointment that reminds us again of the original vineyard of love: we step forward hesitantly, wondering what it will mean. We bring all our own excessive, broken, damaged and lost loves and we see anew, and with wonder, that Jesus accepts them; and not only accepts them but makes of them the necessary stuff of the opening of his Passion. Only Good Friday will show that, rightly understood, such excessive gift is not marginalized as “feminine,” nor is it an invitation to abuse or be abused, nor even a misplaced form of idolatry, but rather a “deeper magic” beyond all human calculation, a divine rationality beyond all human reason. But for now we leave our own hopeless and excessive gifts of love, like wasted nard, at Jesus’s feet, and wait for the unfolding of his new meaning. Amen.

–Sarah Coakley (more here)

Monday in Holy Week

Think of this entry into Holy Week, then, as an invitation: perhaps not to a mere drama after all, but to a Passion to end all dramas; not to a story of justice and deserts, but to a story of divine love so exquisite as to exceed and upturn all justice as we know it; not to a theological conundrum to be solved, but to a dangerous and life-threatening journey: a journey of pain, death, discovery and new Life. This is a journey that can only be undergone, and our undergoing it can only start with a profound lament for our ongoing resistance and aversion to its strange meaning.

From a meditation by Sarah Coakley. Read it all here.

Anti-Judaism and Holy Week

Last year, I posted some thoughts on the topic:

One of the central issues facing Christians during Holy Week (in fact it’s central to Christianity itself) is the pervasive anti-Judaism in the Christian tradition and in parts of the New Testament. It’s particularly prevalent in the Gospel of John and reaches its highest intensity in the passion narrative (John 18 and 19). It’s traditional that John’s Passion Narrative is read on Good Friday. The raw power of the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trials, and crucifixion that culminate with the silence of the tomb, combines with the larger liturgical context to confront worshipers with the enormity of the crucifixion and with human culpability in it.

Killings in Overland Park, KS

The news of the shooting deaths of Jews in Overland Park, KS is deeply distressing, especially on this day as Christians begin Holy Week and Jews prepare for the celebration of Passover. I mentioned in my sermon today the anti-Judaism in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death. The deaths today are a reminder of the violence and hate that plague our culture; a reminder, too, of our duty to proclaim and work for a gospel of peace and love.

We should also pray:

Loving God, Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty, And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love. Strengthen all those who work for peace, And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts. Amen.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love, Cynicism, and the Cross: A Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2014

Palm Sunday is an experience of liturgical whiplash. We begin with joy, celebration, with loud hosannas and singing, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” But the mood shifts as we enter the nave and sing Ride On! Ride on in majesty.” It’s a hymn that begins with the Triumphal Entry but ends with a foreshadowing of the cross:

In lowly pomp, ride on to die

Bow thy meek head to mortal pain

In the same way our own emotions and participation shift, too, from praise and joy to condemnation as we shout with the crowd in Jerusalem, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Continue reading

The Cross, Violence, and God: Some reflections on the eve of Holy Week

I’ve been thinking about the violence of the cross the past few days. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, walking the familiar streets around Capitol Square while carrying a cross and reflecting on Christ’s suffering and death offered a new perspective on the suffering that occurs in our city. Earlier in the week, I participated in an ecumenical conversation around the atonement, violence, and non-violence. I was particularly intrigued by the comment of an Armenian Orthodox colleague who said that they sing a hymn during Holy Week, “He lifted himself up on the cross.” In other words, instead of the cross being something God did to Jesus, Jesus’ crucifixion is something Jesus himself did (as God, of course).

That conversation was in my mind as I tried to choose hymnody for our our Holy Week services and began working on my sermons. Our hymns tend to focus on Christ’s suffering on our behalf and the necessity of the shedding of Jesus’ blood. There are other images but for the most part, our devotional focus during Holy Week is on our guilt and Jesus’ suffering.

As part of my sermon preparation, I listened to the Working Preacher podcast, in which one of the speakers asked the question, “What does the cross say about God?” The answer is obvious if one accepts substitutionary atonemenent: that God is violent.

But is that the only possible answer? J. Denny Weaver argues in A Nonviolent Atonement and The Nonviolent God for a different perspective. If Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God in the world, Jesus’ nonviolence offers a key to understanding the character of God. He makes the case that the dominant understanding of atonement in the Early Church, “Christus Victor” puts the focus on the resurrection of Christ, not the crucifixion and thus God is seen as renewing life and creation through Christ’s death and resurrection (rather than seeking satisfaction for human sin).

How then to understand the cross? If Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t necessary to appease a vengeful God, what does the cross mean? Here, the Working Preacher question takes on significance.

What does the cross say about God? The cross shows God’s love for the world, God giving Godself for humanity; God dying because of human evil and sinfulness, yet in the end triumphing over that evil. The cross helps us encounter God in the suffering of the world. The cross helps us experience God’s love in the midst of our pain and struggles. The cross, to use St. Paul’s language, is “power made perfect in weakness.”

What might devotional practice and devotional imagery that emphasized those themes look like? Perhaps a downtown, public stations of the cross that connects Jesus’ suffering with the suffering on our streets is one answer.