I’ve just finished The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and I wanted, honestly, to walk Holy Week with the book. But there are a lot of blank pages at the end and suddenly it was just… over. We hear the screams and shrieks of the crowd, the way the women with Jesus wailed and begged, the anger in the voices of his friends, and then the first nail is driven home.
I strive to always know, to be correct, to have the lines drawn and to know just where I stand and where everyone else does too.
And so it is hard for me when that doesn’t happen.
I finished the book with big tears in my eyes, the image of Pastor with his shepherd’s crook fading from the sight of Christ on the cross as he made his way down the hill called Golgotha. I felt vindicated because God was not presented as some grandfatherly person dangling his fingers in a pond, using it like a Pensieve to take a little gander at what his creatures were up to, not presented as a wonderful and warm black lady making pancakes in a shack and explaining life’s mysteries.
God was presented as arrogant and unfeeling, as power hungry and manipulative.
At one point in the book the devil and God and Jesus are all floating in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the devil says he will repent, he says he will come back, he will sing God’s praises until the end of time if God will stop this plan of his to crucify Jesus. And God brushes him off, all but laughs in his face.
And at the last, when the bones in his arms are broken from bearing his weight, and his lungs are filling with blood and the sweat stings his eyes, he calls out and asks those assembled to forgive God, not the other way around.
Before this, when Jesus and God and the devil are floating in that boat Jesus makes God list for him all those who will martyr themselves, what the crusades are, and how many will die; and Jesus sort of changes his mind.
And so here I am, at the not end of a very long day. Here I am with the violence of Palm Sunday and crucifixion taking place in the space of, oh, 30 minutes in this shortened version of Holy Week. In this dumbed down (I’m very sorry, we tell the truth here) liturgy that takes into account the people who can only handle so much before they reach for the Tylenol, whose pain threshold is so low. These folks don’t come to Maundy Thursday because touching feet is gross. I know it’s gross, I feel ya, I don’t like feet that much. But it ISN’T ABOUT THE FEET and it isn’t about the little tubs that we always use. It isn’t about how we all process out and the choir stands in the back and takes off their cottas while the priest washes the altar, many times with his tears.
It is about being servants, it is about being the hands and the feet of Christ. It is about that expensive bottle of perfume someone bought you for an anniversary or a birthday, you can’t remember anymore, but it’s that one you never use; you’re saving it for a special occasion. It’s about how every day is a special occasion, every encounter. The feet are symbolic of that, symbolic of our call to DO all the icky things. Like taking out the trash and cleaning the bathrooms at church and sitting in the nursery, whatever your icky thing is, that is what Maundy Thursday is about. It is about breaking open that precious bottle and using it, loaning it, handing it to anyone and saying, here, try this, its French.
When we skip ahead, as we did today, and then go backward, it creates confusion.We’re all, wait, is he dead? Is he crucified? Has the crowd even turned on him yet? Has he met Pilate? Our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies address those questions, for those who don’t prefer the jarring change from acclamation to hate that is the Palm Sunday liturgy.
On Good Friday we live the death of a prophet. We are called to the foot of a cross that stands on a hill and we smell the sweat and the blood, the bodily fluids that stain the wood as human beings stop being alive. We get our knees dirty as we kneel in the dirt, we allow the tears to come.
These are important things. We cannot know, not really, where we come from and whose we are unless we hear the stories we tell at the Great Vigil, unless we have washed feet and knelt at the foot of the cross. It’s all fluff and habit, if we don’t acknowledge sometimes the substance behind it, if we won’t let it move us in ways that are distinctly not happy.
Here I am on the mat with God and he won’t give me straight answers or a hand up. Here I am on the edge of the cliff that is Holy Week and I am reeling backward, grabbing for little branches that keep snapping off in my hands, falling inexorably forward.
Maybe I will let myself fall.
Maybe I will be quiet, just for a minute, and see if God can talk really fast, inside that minute, and explain some things, answer some questions for me. Maybe I can rest and see that rest is holy too.
Today I was a little quiet. I sat and listened to a Men and Boys Choir, and the low bass and the very very high voices of the youngest boys traveled out in these vibrating waves and hit me right in the chest.
This is a place of such strangeness and beauty. Yes, there is brutality and pain, there are deep and gaping wounds that we have inflicted on each other. Maybe if I can let go of my need to be right, my need to know, my need to order and to organize all the things for just a moment I can allow myself to go over that cliff. Maybe I can unclench my fists, maybe I can mend the things that are torn and broken, if I will only somehow lose myself in the equation.
In the meantime I am sending you this letter, with all of the purple fabric that has torn itself again somehow sitting on the bed behind me. After I have rested, I will take up my needle and thread it with purple thread. And I will set about mending things.