The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him… (Mark 14:1)
Holy Week is nearly upon us. This weekend we will join the crowds who wave palms and offer their cloaks upon the road as the Messiah arrives in the ancient holy city. It is a glorious moment – but one that takes a very dark turn fairly quickly.
Throughout history, we have always appreciated this opportunity to celebrate the essential story of our Christian faith: that Jesus died and rose for us. We like the bare-bones version that we recite in the Apostles’ Creed because it is clean, neat, and tidy. It fits into our faith rubric. In effect, by keeping to this orderly account, we domesticate Jesus.
Like all great prophets, it is so much easier for the world if we relegate Christ into our systems of belief, rather than allowing Jesus to envelop us in God’s true purposes. Why? Because God is willing to deal with the mess, the muck, the mire, the shadows, and the evil that lurks in our midst.
We often get so caught up in our atonement theology that we forget why Jesus was crucified from the human perspective. Easier to focus on God giving us such a great gift, rather than to grapple with the reality that Jesus was condemned for blasphemy, sedition, and being a true rebel when it came to the establishment. We are terrified of this real Christ for one very key reason: in many ways we have become the very establishment that Jesus fought against.
This is not to suggest that all religion should be cast off – that would be throwing out the baby with the bath water, as the old saying goes. However, we, as members of Christ’s body here on earth, must relearn what it means to truly follow Jesus.
It is going to be messy. It is going to take us into the knee-deep bog of human suffering. It is going to force us to be counter-(Christian)-cultural. Whatever we believe it means to be a Christian, much of Christian-culture in our world has become the very narcissistic, bigot-filled, power-hungry, and life-threatening force it was always meant to battle.
If Holy Week does not bring us to the brink of this understanding, then nothing else ever will. For our Lord came as someone that no one would notice, a poor carpenter, who lived his life among outcasts, thieves, and prostitutes, and broke all the “rules” the religious system had created to keep people under their thumb. For this, he was condemned by both the religious and secular powers for being far too radical, someone ahead of his time, and someone who refused to wait for the more opportune option of his critics.
As we shout joyful acclamations of triumph this Sunday, let us not forget that we will also be the ones screaming “crucify him” four days later. We humans are fickle creatures and prone to fall. None of us is above reproach. We have all sinned and fallen short. We have all been the ones trying to display popular piety while finding ways to keep the rebel-rousers silenced by stealth.
Easter morning does bring hope for us. However, we must first come to grips with Golgotha. Ours are the hands that crucified our Lord. Worse, we continuously drive the nail even deeper when we turn on one another and all those children of God that are deemed “weak” and “wrong” by the world and the religious establishment. It is time to be honest that the One we are meant to serve is not the Jesus we like to portray.
The good news is that, however much it may be in our nature to manipulate and bite and chide and demean and hate, it can never change God’s nature to save. We are about to witness how far that salvation will go, even for us poor and needy sinners. May this coming week open our eyes to our own need to turn back to who God really is and find the new life that the empty tomb will bring.