We live by and with our stories. They provide meaning and perspective, and they are the heart and soul of our lives. We have family stories, adventure stories, and stories and myths often taught through religious traditions and teachings that we share in common with our community. These stories bind us in common reference to measure and guide our morality and ethics. I regret that our current culture has essentially lost a sense of a common story during this era of challenging and reckoning with our past , a loss which creates much of the divisions among us. But that is the topic for a whole other Saturday Evening Post, perhaps!
Today begins the story of the Jewish commemoration the Passover, and tomorrow, Palm Sunday, initiates the dramatic commemoration of Holy Week story in the Christian tradition that culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. These stories, told now and elaborated on over the millennia, anchor and convey for their respective traditions the overall story of God’s faithfulness and love for humanity. Whether of not these stories are accurate history, they have become sacred text that honors how God rescued humanity from slavery and oppression and provided followers with visions of hope for the ultimate triumph of love and compassion.
Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to participate virtually in a Seder feast with my local friends. We followed the age old Haggadah, the story that commemorates the miracle of how the Jewish people were rescued from years of cruel enslavement in Egypt and became a people bonded together in a common faith in God and a common sense of land. The Haggadah recitation of the ancient story has the further appeal of grounding the telling with traditions of symbolic food and activities that give the story a tangible presence for us today. As every culture knows, there is something very powerful in sharing the venerable histories that have established much of our sense of belonging and integrity.
The Passover celebration was certainly central to the familial and communal life of Jesus, and I can imagine it probably followed the Haggadah very similar to the way it is observed today. In my imagination Jesus the Jewish prophet and teacher was particularly captured by the liberation theme that is so central to the Passover story. And I am led to believe his ministry, then, was impelled to extend the Passover story of liberation and salvation for the Jewish people, to be a story for the liberation of all humanity. His teaching thus offered an inclusiveness based on the radical notion that God’s love as available to all. In as much as the followers of his radical teaching have observed and practiced his radical vision of liberating love they have transformed the ethics and morality of the world. Sadly, Jesus’ followers have too often subscribed to the presumed exclusionary availability of God's love that he challenged and attempted to expand in his own contemporary tradition.
The Jewish passover is the story of people being chosen and liberated by a loving God. The Holy Week story, at best (in my opinion!), extends the Passover story by commemorating God’s universal love and the challenges and sacrifice often required when one follows a path of radical love as taught and lived by Jesus. And thus the challenge of a personal Christian faith is to try to follow this path of radical love retold in the Holy Week story that the Christian tradition offers us.
If my reflections this evening are puzzling, I need to conclude by explaining that I am currently deeply influenced by the writing of Howard Thurman’s interpretation of the teaching of Jesus in his book Jesus and the Disinherited.* I have come to appreciate anew how critically important it is to interpret the Jesus story as a "preferential option" for the “disinherited,” those in the margins, the “other.” Our fractured and divisive world, and the chasms in “Christian” American culture in particular, needs to heed this interpretation of Jesus’ “no exceptions” vision of a love, and thus, the promise and hope of creating a “blessed” community.
I believe many people are quietly living in this radical spirit of love and nonviolence, and these “everyday saints,” whoever you are, hold our family and community lives together as "angels unawares." But a public ministry of this radically inclusive love may also involve a price. As we have learned from Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus' story itself, and many others, our experience this past year and ongoing is that the liberation struggle from oppression requires a courageous and vulnerable steadfastness and a perseverance in radical love. This is an eternal story of humankind, isn’t it?
May you find a sacredness in the stories of your own life and experience.
*Jesus and the Disinherited
Book by Howard Thurman
Jesus and the Disinherited is a 1949 book by African-American minister, theologian, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman. In the book, Thurman interprets the teachings of Jesus through the experience of the oppressed and discusses nonviolent responses to oppression. Wikipedia