Crucify Him!

Language Arts class in small-town Sikeston, Missoura High School English class included dissecting the minutia of literary classics of the day.  Among these was Harper Lee’s treatment of rape, class, racial violence, and justice (and injustice) in To kill a Mockingbird.  

Atticus Finch tells his tomboy daughter Scout to remember that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”.  Mockingbirds never harm other living creatures, but simply provide pleasure with their songs, “They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” ‘To kill a mockingbird’ is to kill that which is innocent and harmless—like Tom Robinson.”  

A color photograph of a northern mockingbird

Atticus is a small-town southern lawyer who raises the legal standard with his unpopular representation of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, named Mayella.  Finch’s children Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill are central characters and through whose eyes we see the plot unfold.

Scout soon must defend her father’s honor when classmates taunt that he’s a “nigger-lover,” and defuses a lynch mob as she stands by him blocking the door to the jail.  Atticus had taught Scout (and us) that mobs do not think, but rather act on emotion.  Atticus tells Jem to remember that mobs are “made up of people”, meaning that if a mob is broken down into the individuals that are part of it, then it is no longer a mob thinking with the emotional collective brain.  It is now just a group of individuals each with his own sense of right and wrong.

People, on their own, are far less apt to do the things that mobs do.  Mobs tend to rely on emotion and not thought, whereas people are more likely to use some thought before they act.  Even people who disagree on some issues can stand up for one another and protect one another.

Absent this, the mob creates headlines and horrible memories of Michael Brown, Rodney King, and Reginald Denny.

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One of the many symbolic side-plots, Atticus must shoot a rabid dog (a not so subtle racism metaphor) running in the street, although it’s “not his job to do it.”  This is clearly Harper Lee’s reminder of our own free choice to do what is right, despite whether or not it’s our obligation to do so.

And so we come back to Holy Week.

Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. Somehow word has leaked out that here is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Could he be the Messiah?

Word spreads in the gathering crowd. He’s riding on a donkey with her colt. Didn’t the prophet Zechariah say something about this? Could he be the Messiah?

By now the crowd is large. Then the actions start. Somewhere in the midst of all the people someone lays a branch on the ground in front of Jesus. Then someone else does it. Someone else lays a cloak on the ground. And before you know it seemingly everyone is doing it.

And such a clamor! Everyone is making noise, noise that comes together in a din, nothing very defined. Until, ringing out distinctly above it all, a word is heard, a prayer. Others join in. Finally, in unison, like a great choir, all around Jesus the crowd is shouting, “Hosanna!”

Save us, son of David, from the oppressive hand of the Roman rulers!

Save us from our sin, Jesus, you who come in the name of the Lord!

Of course you know what’s next.

It’s not just the Roman leaders here who think Jesus is a threat to the establishment. It’s also the Jewish religious leaders.

For many years the Jewish people have been under foreign rule. Uprisings have been attempted—even uprisings that were thought to be messianic. But now, at this time in history, the religious leaders have it pretty well. They are the “who’s who” in the city of Jerusalem. The Roman overlords give these religious leaders quite a lot of liberty. These religious leaders have grown accustomed to the respect shown them. And so on.

But now this so-called prophet, this Jesus of Nazareth, is causing a stir. Not good, as far as the religious leaders are concerned. Not good, to the point that they want him out of the way—to the point that they want him dead! Yes, he’s that much of a threat!

Apparently they’re not the only disgruntled ones.  Whether it’s impatience, frustration, or something more sinister – truly evil, One of his closest followers, hand picked for redemption, has sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver!

Jesus is then tried in an early morning, nefarious kangaroo court, and found guilty on trumped up charges. Pilate, the Roman leader in charge of the trial, caves to the mob.  Instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, the crowd shouts, again and again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

But here’s the worst part: this is by and large the same crowd that was shouting Hosanna just a few days ago. And now it’s, “Crucify him!”

We humans are fickle.

There are times we feel like nothing can come between me and Jesus. He has redeemed me; he is saving me from all my sin and wickedness; and he will lead me into glory. I know this in the bottom of my heart, down to the core of my being. And nothing’s gonna shake me. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

But you know how it is. Life sneaks in a sucker punch. We don’t see it coming, but all of a sudden the wind is knocked out of us. All of a sudden, we have questions, doubts, quandaries. And we begin to think, Maybe I’m not so sure about my faith after all. Maybe Jesus was just a man, that this story I’ve heard all my life, that this faith I practice, is just a complex Santa Claus story. Viscerally I believe, and not just with my emotions, but truly with my reasoning as well. But from somewhere creeps these doubts.  Maybe the crowd’s right after all. Maybe I should just give up, forget this emotional wave I’ve been surfing. Maybe I should just give in and yell “Crucify him!” with everyone else.

So then, what are you going to do?

And so, here we are on Palm Sunday participating in the annual reading of Our Lord’s Passion.  We get to the part where we’re supposed to be the worked up mob, “Crucify Him!  CRUCIFY HIM!!!”  My inner Pharisee feigns indignation.  “I would never have shouted that!”  Who am I fooling?  Of course I would have.

Jesus hand-picked these twelve from anyone in the world.  They lived with Him for three years.  They witnessed miracles. Firsthand!  They saw lepers cured; With their own eyes, they saw Lazarus and the small child raised from the dead!  Three of them witnessed the transfiguration.  They saw Him walk on water!

But they fell asleep when He begged them to stay awake.  Everyone of them (except John) deserted him and ran for their lives.  The man He trusted enough to hand over the “keys,” and whom He called “the rock,” denied him three times, cursing that He didn’t even know the Man.

And I think I’m better than they were?  I, who beg and plead for a deeper love and stronger faith, because of my human weaknesses?

God has the fullness of time, seeing the past, present, and future all together.  He knew these men would betray Him.  And He made me this way.  With all of my doubts, faults, and shallowness.  He knows I try.  He knows I love Him with all that my human weakness allows.  But, in fact, I am human.  “Lord I do believe.  Help my unbelief!”

What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God (Hans Urs Von Balthasar)

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Credits to The Holy Bible, Harper Lee, Cliff’s Notes, Vivens In Sacerdotium, Bill O’Reilly, and Wikipedia and Saint Augustine.
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They’ve Taken Him Away

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It’s always startling to look up from the pews and not see the image of Christ up behind the altar.  Many churches place a veil there during Holy Week, or even the entire 40 days of Lent, to aid in our Lenten journey of “doing without.” Apparently this is an ancient custom, another tradition packed with meaning and symbolism.  It arose during the earliest times, reminiscent of the Jewish temple curtain, “torn in half,” at the moment of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. (Mt 27:50-51); (Mk 15,38); (Lk 23,45).

My German brothers I met on the Camino call this veil the Fastentuch, or “fasting cloth.”

Everything in the Church has meaning – everything we do, everything we say, every object and every action.  They either are truth, or they represent/remind us of scripture, or a calling to reverence for our Lord.  This is the essence of the “tradition” that is so confusing to those looking in, and mis-represented by so many “leaders” outside of the Church to their respective congregations.

From “crossing ourselves” to a Crucifix on the wall.  From Holy Water to statues.  From memorized prayers and a liturgical form of worship to vestments worn by the ordained.  Even if your own faith tradition doesn’t understand the relevance or scriptural basis for “traditions” such as these, certainly you can see the beauty in provoking a deeper atmosphere of prayer and reverence.

So anyway, the inner curtain of the Jewish temple separated  the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, from all of us.

And so, this tearing open of the curtain with the death of Jesus opens up access to the inner sanctum, and we now may enter into our own relationships with Him.

The Lenten Veil separates the community from that image of Jesus we grow so familiar with, and tend to take for granted.  There are many places where any display of this symbol representing the very heart of our faith are forbidden, and actually subject to severe punishment.  When we look up and see the Cross of Jesus gone, it pulls viscerally, and creates a longing.  It symbolizes an emptiness of life without our faith, without Jesus.  We are truly alone, and life has lost all of its meaning.  

This is a form of physical penance, of fasting.  The vernacular term “starving” thus refers not only to material poverty, but to a spiritual nakedness of facing life alone, the futility of suffering for no reason.  Again, life loses all of its meaning.

Wikipedia affirms it in its German edition:

The somber custom is believed to come from a 9th century German practice of extending a large cloth called the “Hungertuch” (hunger cloth) before the altar from the beginning of Lent. The cloth – which hid the altar – was not removed until during the reading of the Passion on the Wednesday in Holy Week – at the words, “the veil of the temple was rent in two.”

The building and placement of a fast cloth was – as a religious – with a few exceptions Tradition maintained until the 18th century only in Catholic areas, as Luther against this tradition of religious art pronounced as “Gaukelwerk”. Although they once extended far beyond the original boundaries, they remained after the Reformation obtained only in the formation bidding; occasionally there are still churches that maintain the tradition. However, it appears that the Lenten veil is being rediscovered as an art form, and many Protestant churches now participate in the custom.

And so as we joyously and jubilantly welcomed the Messiah Yeshua into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we progress through the most holy of weeks.

We are encouraged to commit to our own sacrifice.  If we’ve never “given up” anything for Lent, or if we’ve failed to keep good on that intent this season, its time to recommit for these last seven days.  Again, it’s not what we sacrifice, its that we sacrifice.  And it’s not for Him, it’s for us.  Some small reminder of what should really be important in our lives.  Something that forces us to pause, to focus, to imagine being without.

Most certainly Jesus knew how the week would end – the suffering of His Passion, the panic and despair of his followers, and their jubilant ecstasy of his victory over death at His Resurrection.  As we remember and desperately miss our beloved family and friends who have departed, we take much consolation in the confidence that our Lord has torn open that curtain, embracing them as they enter to the other side.

Much Love.  Have a Blessed Holy Week, 2015.