Dear Members and Friends,
The cross reveals the sin of the world.
-Stanley Hauerwas, 21st century theologian/ethicist
We are entering the Holiest Week of the Christian year. Holy Week is a time of “walking in the shadows”. It is a time when we remember the suffering and death of Jesus. It is not an easy week to walk. Holy Week begins with a Palm Parade, moves through a period of desertion and abandonment by all who loved and followed Jesus, through a cross and into a tomb. Though Holy Week ends in a tomb, the story does not end there. The first day of the next week is Easter.
Though many of us prefer to move from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and just ignore the week between. But Holy Week, and especially Good Friday and the Cross, are necessary events. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, “the cross reveals the sin of the world.” God is peaceful. We are violent. That’s what the cross establishes. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann goes a step further and identifies how the cross is a sign of Christ’s solidarity with all victims of violence and torture.
Christ’s cross stands between the countless crosses set up by the powerful and the violent throughout history, down to the present day. It stood in the concentration camps, and stands today in Latin America and in the Balkans, and among those tortured by hunger in Africa. His suffering doesn’t rob the suffering of these others of his dignity. He is among them as their brother, as a sign that God shares in our suffering and takes our pain on himself.
(Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World)
Trappist monk Thomas Merton noted the uncanny way North American culture focuses our attention on the inessential. Spiritual teacher for centuries call such misplaced focus “distraction.” Merton excoriated our North American preoccupation with the question, “Am I happy?” as exemplifying the diversion of our lives to banality, superficiality and achingly empty living:
When we live superficially … we are always outside ourselves, never quite “with” ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.
(Merton, Love and Living)
Although Merton did not live to see the massacres at Columbine, Pulse, Parkland, or the bombings in Austin, Texas, he nevertheless anticipated their possibility, warning that lives adapted to the American pursuit of happiness create an uncontrollable monster called self-alienation that seeks release in “dramas of violence.”
This is why we need to immerse ourselves periodically in the passion and suffering and violence and sin of Holy Week. Over and over the young men (and they always seem to be young men) who inflict this violence on random people, express their sense of self-alienation. They are not finding lives filled with “happiness” according to the American dream. Merton reminds us that “Am I happy?” is the wrong question. As he put it:
Ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.
(Merton, My Argument with the Gestapo)
This is the gift Holy Week offers to us: an examination of our living. Holy Week reminds us that Jesus had to die. Not because God required it, but because it was the natural result of what he was living for. When he, as the incarnation of God’s peace and love met with humanity’s addiction to violence, he had to suffer an ugly end. The motto of the Roman Empire was “peace through victory”, or peace through the destruction of enemies, or peace through domination. The motto for Jesus was peace through nonviolent justice, peace through forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace. These are two diametrically opposed approaches to life in the world.
Holy Week reminds us that to be a follower of Jesus places you in opposition to almost everything a dominant government and culture expresses. It means to join Jesus’ peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus means we must not bow down before all the bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods but we must only give our lives in faith and trust to the living God of grace and peace who, in Jesus, sheds God’s own blood. By doing so, God demonstrates most powerfully the full extent of God’s love for us and the world. As Jesus told his followers in John’s gospel: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” God has done that. That is the true power in the world. The only power that can overcome the sin of the world.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida