Friday, April 10, 2009

Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs

It's Good Friday, the saddest but most meaningful day of the year. The Triduum of Holy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday is definitely my favorite time of year as we relive Jesus' last days in real time. I'll be spending a lot of time in church this weekend, attending the most beautiful liturgies of the year. Yesterday I even got to see Bishop Hermann bless holy oils at the Chrism Mass.

Growing up, my family always watched a lot of Bible movies during Lent.
Yesterday's article in Slate about gory, gaudy Passion productions put on by Fundamentalist churches. I had no idea Cirque de Soleil-meets-Salvation History was such a trend right now. The article raises the valid point that the Gospels really aren't the stupendous epics these plays make them out to be. I've seen dozens Jesus movies and none are exactly the riveting "Greatest Story Ever Told" their billing promises. Maybe it's because we know what is coming - some Roman soldiers, some skeptical Pharisees, some preaching to crowds of extras in long robes. It's not quite action-packed. The accounts of Jesus' life are more like ancient tragedies than epics, full of dialogue until the main character meets a rapid and brutal end.

Unfortunately, this article got bogged down in the dialogue. In the process, the author missed the entire point of Easter. He suggested that instead of the Passion, churches should look to
a stirring parable Jesus told about a rich man who sends invitations for a fabulous dinner party, only to have no one accept. So the rich man has his servants round up "the poor and crippled and blind and lame," .... With the fast of Lent over, churches hoping to share their beliefs could take Jesus' parable as a suggestion: Throw a dinner. Make it lavish. "Go out to the highways and the hedges," as the rich man said, and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. What kind of story would that tell?
Treating poor people with compassion and dignity - what a concept! It's not like thousands church pantries and religious outreach programs do that every single day of the year. Jesus' death and resurrection are only a disturbing postscript to his career as a "good moral teacher." Let's just give away free stuff and everyone will convert.

St. Paul wrote that "we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." It really must seem absurd to non-Christians. They read about this nice man defying religious authority and preaching compassion, so far so good. Then suddenly he's arrested, flogged, tortured, and publicly executed. That is hardly feel-good literature. God willfully choosing for his Son to suffer in a humiliating manner seems illogical. It's not even epic- some obscure person dies in a backwater town.

And yet, it also makes perfect sense. Love one another as I have loved you, Christ commanded. How much did He love? Enough to be arrested, flogged, tortured, and publicly executed for our sake. Enough to quietly endure the same anguish that His creation brought on itself by sin.

Anyone I work with, even the non-religious people, could tell you about the anguish of sin in the world. We see it every day in the lives of our clients. Many of these women have been beaten by boyfriends, ripped off by landlords, enslaved by addiction, raped by men they trusted. They may be guilty of anger of neglect towards their little children. There are oceans of pain in this world caused by selfishness and bad decisions. It takes more than free diapers and or even lavish dinners to change that.

How do you solve such pain? By facing it head on. That's the beauty of the bloody Passion. I'll admit, it used to terrify me. As a child, I hid from crucifixes and the Good Friday scenes in Jesus movies. Then I heard someone describe Christ's death as the most beautiful love song ever written. There is something so comforting, so profound about worshipping a God who endured the spectrum of human misery and pain. For anyone who has ever been backstabbed, abandoned, treated injustly, physically attacked, reduced to the clothes on their back; there is an image in the Gospels of God experiencing the same thing. Through that painful experience, his love purified this sinful world.

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

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