[Note: this week’s SEP presumes some familiarity with the traditions of Holy Week and Easter. Please bear with me if it may be a bit confusing.]
The Holy Week commemoration that culminates in Easter tomorrow never seems to adequately inspire me at the level my Christian faith presumes of me. I have never sufficiently grasped that I must fully accept that the crucified Jesus needed to be resurrected from the dead to ground my belief in the great love of God. I know this will be sacrilegious to many as you read this on Easter morning, but there it is. I find my faith based, rather, on the Easter story of overcoming death that emphasize Jesus’ unconditional love for the whole of humanity as an expression, in turn, of the assurance of God’s unconditional love. And for me the Easter story underscores the social and political price for expressing and living out that love, even unto death.
So Holy Week is truly a passion story if we think of “passion” as a compelling, even extravagant emotion expressing profound love. The Easter tradition further defines passion to include the Passion of Christ, meaning the week of his initial triumphal recognition, his contemplation on the meaning of his suffering, and finally the dramatic events surrounding his execution, death and accounts of his resurrection. Because the early part of the Holy Week narration focusses on the observances that are actually quite sobering, stark and haunting, it is understandably difficult to popularize and make them more culturally acceptable. The Roman Catholic commemoration of the Stations of the Cross, for example, honors the drama of the Holy Week narrative, but in my Protestant experience, with the exception of a special Maundy Thursday communion service, I never felt able to experience a deeply meaningful identification with the suffering and drama that part of the story recounts. Consequently the cultural commemoration of Holy Week focuses primarily, as perhaps it should, on the celebratory mode of how Jesus rose from the dead to overcome the devastating impact of death and grieving. Alternatively we are to embrace a vision of eternal life and hope. We can generally agree that the Passion narrative provides a great vision of hope, however much we are to be able to believe the factual accounting, and I am grateful for the inspiration and assurance the Easter narrative provides in terms of honoring a life after death, however we may interpret that.
For me the Easter Passion story, however, cannot be adequately appreciated, and therefore appropriately celebrated, without acknowledging and emphasizing the context in which Jesus was crucified. He was crucified because he challenged the unjust and exclusionary cultural practices of both Judaism and the Roman Empire and instead raised up the sacred value of each human life - the outcast, the leper, the enemy, the universal “other” - and affirmed the essential, intrinsic reverence for life and the redemptive power of love. Holy Week is a micro version of how difficult, dangerous yet profoundly rewarding it is to live out a compelling life of compassion and sacrifice. We can identify with Jesus' discouragement and betrayal, the power of the “lynching” crowd, the cruelty of power, the necessity of a community of faith to share and support the travail and the joy, and most importantly, the great fulfillment of a faithful life committed to love and purposeful sacrifice.
For many Christians and the secular world this powerful drama gets co-opted and popularized with symbols that only vaguely retain their original spiritual or historical significance, symbols and traditions like colored eggs and Easter egg hunts, marshmallow “Peeps," candy treats, lilies, and Easter bunnies. I need to just accept all that as part of cultural adaptation. But it does make me appreciate even more how the Jewish Passover Seder feast sustainably integrates truly meaningful traditional symbols with the ancient Haggadah reading.
On the other side of Passover and Easter this year is our own process of liberation from the lockdown and the threat of death from a lethal virus. We also are now surrounded by the resurrection of springtime and the context of a significant political “resurrection” as well. Whatever the present historical moment, It is good and important that we take time to commemorate our ancient stories that memorialize humanity's dramatic efforts to maintain a loving relationship with God, with our “neighbors," and with all of creation. May we be grateful for the inspiration, hope, assurance and the triumph of the human spirit that these two remarkable historic narratives provide.
In peace and in the spirit of springtime and holy resurrection,
P.S. I again welcome the opportunity to add friends to my SEP list serve upon request.