Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Holy Week, 2020

“The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” by Zambian artist Emmanuel Nsama

This evening's post serves as my 2020 Holy Week offering. In previous years, as you'll see at the end of this post, I've shared whole series of posts to mark Holy Week. I want to keep things simpler this year, as I did last year.

And so I share this evening some Holy Week writings that I've long found to be especially meaningful. They are accompanied by the artwork of others and some of my own photography, mainly of the natural world around my home in south Minneapolis, close to the Mississippi River.

As I've said previously, I don't find it surprising that the Christian church chose to remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus at what could be called an in-between time of the year, a time when (in the northern hemisphere, at least) the natural world is experiencing both loss and promise.

The stark beauty of the earth at this time reminds me of the deep and profound spiritual truths within which we all have our being; truths that continually invite us to embark on journeys of transformation towards wholeness.

My friend Phillip Clark puts it this way: “The promise of resurrection and transformation is nowhere more poignantly displayed than in the natural world. Death, transience, and impermanence always give way to the splendor of New Life. Life never truly ends, on a biological or spiritual level. Evolution is intrinsic to the universe and defines the trajectory of our souls, from the temporal limitations of mortality to the boundless expanses of cosmic Eternity.”

I like to think that my nature photography reflects such spiritual truths, as well as providing in these especially troubling times, a much-needed groundedness in the beauty and wisdom of the earth.


When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion.

The Gospel of Jesus subverts the politics of violence because the Gospels is the politics of humility, service, forgiveness, and a nonviolent love that embraces all people, but especially those we call our enemies.

Tragically, we tend to live by the politics of Rome, not the politics of Jesus. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, American or Russian, whenever we seek to influence others through coercion and violence, we are following the politics of Rome.

Fortunately, Jesus revealed the alternative. He called it “The Kingdom of God.” It’s a political way of life based not on triumphant violence, but rather humble service. The politics of Jesus makes sure everyone has daily bread, it seeks to forgive debts and sins, it avoids the temptation to commit evil against our neighbors, and it calls us into a life of forgiveness.

But this is risky. We know that the politics of Jesus led him to Good Friday, where he suffered and died. And yet he stayed true to the Kingdom of God, speaking words of forgiveness even as he was murdered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

– Adam Eriksen
Excerpted from "The Subversive Politics of Palm Sunday"
March 19, 2016

Jesus, our Tortured Brother,
In this world, so many are
forced to walk your path today –
the suffering and pain, the
humiliation, sense of betrayal
and abandonment,
for those with power, the
Romans of today, continue to
condemn others to modern crosses.

You said that what was done to the least of these
was done to you and so each day,
You are tortured anew.

Jesus, our Guardian of the Wounded and Tortured,
Bid us to look into the secret prisons – the unmarked
graves – the hearts and minds of the torture survivors,
Bid us to wipe the tears of the families of those whose
decapitated bodies were cast into the open sea,
Bid us to embrace the open wounds of the tortured.

Jesus, Guiding Spirit,
Teach us to be in solidarity with those who hang
from these crosses,
Call out to those who torture,
“Know the evil you have done and repent.”
Call out to the rest of us, “What meaning does love have
if you allow torture to continue unopposed?”

In the name of all the tortured of the world,
give us the strength, give us the courage,
give us the will to bring this horror to an end,
in the name of love, justice,
and the God of us all.


Title of artwork and photographer unknown

On Good Friday we must challenge the notion that divine vengeance drove Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. Christ's passion for egalitarian fellowship, a world devoid of social stigma, and his invitation to discover the Reign of God, present within us, undermined the institutional and political authority of both the Temple religious establishment and the occupying presence of the Roman empire in first century Palestine.

Jesus died as a victim of capital punishment, at the hands of the state, subjected to unspeakable torture and brutality by soldiers charged with enforcing imperial domination.

Christ's life, death, and resurrection are profoundly political. Viewing the fate of Jesus as a cosmic transaction to satisfy God's retribution for humanity's sins dismisses the zealous passion for social justice that characterized his revolutionary ministry.

As our afflicted world yearns for healing, we would do well to contemplate the inequitable systems that perpetuate suffering by not allocating healthcare in comprehensively humane manner. The coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people, giving rise to contemporary casualties of injustice, mired in the anguish of a public health scheme that prizes pharmaceutical profits over expanding access to society's most vulnerable.

Christ's passion and death should spur us to radical action. If humanity need repent from anything, it is from neglecting to kindle solidarity and failing to conserve our shared planetary home.

Phillip Clark
via Facebook
April 10, 2020

Artwork by Michael O'Brien

The passion is really the mystery of all mysteries, the heart of the Christian faith experience. By the word “passion” here we mean the events which end Jesus’ earthly life: his betrayal, trial, execution on a cross, and death. Of course, for Christian believers the passion is immediately followed by the resurrection, Jesus’ mysterious return to fleshy life, and later by his ascension into heaven and his disappearance from the earthly realm. These six events together comprise the full gamut of the Christian Paschal Mystery.

. . .[T]he word “paschal” [. . .] comes from the Hebrew pasch, which means “pass over.” It's the same word the Jewish tradition uses to speak of its own most sacred religious festival commemorating the miraculous night when Yahweh “passed over” the houses of the Israelites but struck down the Egyptians’ firstborn. Pasch connotes the passage from death to life, and that is exactly what the earliest Christians celebrated in a single continuous ceremony.

. . . The passion has always had strong emotional charge, for obvious reasons. The spectacle of an innocent and good man destroyed by the powers of this world is an archetypal human experience. It elicits our deepest feelings of remorse and empathy (and if we’re honest, our deepest shadows as well). It has long been commemorated in all the artistic genres: in the great oil canvases of Renaissance masters, in the sculpture and stained glass of the medieval cathedrals, in the English mystery plays and the German passion plays, and in music, particularly that of Bach, who gave the world his sublime St. John and St. Matthew passion oratorios. The passion is also quite manipulable. It’s been used to stir anger and scapegoating. It’s been used to fuel anti-Semitism, to induce personal guilt – “Christ died for your sins” – and to arouse devotion in a sentimental and even fanatical way.

From a wisdom point of view, what can we say about the passion? So much bad, manipulative, guilt-inducing theology has been based on it that it’s fair to wonder whether there is any hope of starting afresh. I believe wisdom does open up that possibility. The idea lies in that idea [. . .] of reading Jesus’ life as a sacrament: a sacred mystery whose real purpose is not to arouse empathy but to create empowerment. In other words, Jesus is not particularly interested in increasing either your guilt or your devotion, but rather, in deepening your personal capacity to make the passage into unitive life. If you're willing to work with that wager, the passion begins to make sense in a whole new way.

I’ve long been struck by the question of why it should be that in Jesus’ relatively short human life certain events and experiences seemed to come to him while others did not. He certainly lived in a very intense way the ordeals of betrayal, abandonment, homelessness, and death. Did it have to be like that? If he were indeed here on a divine mission, it would seem that he could have been given an easier path: chief priest, political leader, the Messiah that people expected him to be. From any of these launching pads he would have been well positioned to “put his teachings out there” and impact the consciousness of his times in really a significant way. But none of these materialized. Why not? Because the path he did walk is precisely the one that would most fully unleash the transformative power of his teaching. It both modeled and consecrated the eye of the needle that each one of us must personally pass through in order to accomplish the “one thing necessary” here, according to his teaching: to die to self. I am not talking about literal crucifixion, of course, but I am talking about the literal laying down of our “life,” at least as we usually recognize it. Our only truly essential human task here, Jesus teaches, is to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood. His mission was to show us how to do this. It was a mission he freely accepted. And the energy of his freedom is what ultimately raises the passion above all the emotional trappings and reveals it as a sacred path of liberation.

Cynthia Bourgeault
Excerpted from The Wisdom Jesus
Shambhala, 2008, pp. 105-106

Ev’ry time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned
Now why’d you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?

If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication

Don’t you get me wrong, I only wanna know:
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Tell me what you think about your friends at the top
Who'd you think, besides yourself, was the pick of the crop?
Buddha, was he where it's at? Is he where you are?
Could Mohamed move a mountain, or was that just PR?

Did you mean to die like that? Was that a mistake, or
Did you know your messy death would be a record-breaker?

Don’t you get me wrong, I only wanna know:
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Jesus was executed with two others, the so-called robbers, who presumably were executed, like Jesus, for political reasons. Hence, we may assume, first, that all three were condemned in one and the same trial, and that, second, all three were buried in the same mass grave.

It is characteristic that according to all four Gospels, Jesus was buried neither by his family nor by his disciples (though in the Synoptics a few women witness his burial: Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). Instead, he was buried by a third party, a point that the description of the burial still clearly remembers. But it wasn’t two rich and pious men [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] who buried him – why should his family and his friends have stayed away from [such a] burial? It was the Romans who buried him in a mass grave. And with the large number of the graves, which were immediately flattened, no one could say anymore where it was.

There was no splendor and glory hovering over Jesus’ burial. There were no hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. After the most wretched and ignominious of all deaths, it was presumably the most miserable and wretched of all burials.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann
Excerpted from Putting Away Childish Things
HarperCollins, 1994

The work of art above, based on Michelangelo Caravaggio's “The Entombment of Christ” (right) is credited elsewhere online as being by Polish Jesuit artist Vyacheslav Okun.

Artist Diana Muñiz offers the following commentary on this powerful work:

[T]o enter into this image one must understand the Pietà as an artistic genre or representation of Mary's suffering – and Christ's humanity as suffering servant in the gospels. In this Pietà, Mary's suffering over the destroyed body of Christ after he is taken off the cross is reimagined and substituted as [the suffering and grief of] healthcare workers [in the midst of the current global coronavirus pandemic]. The Pietà invites us to join her in her grief because we can believe that we grieve as she grieved. In the stories about Jesus’s mother in John’s Gospel, we are not invited to participate in God’s story – that is Luke’s invitation – instead, we see that God comes to participate in our story.

“Jesus Appears to Mary” by Doug Blanchard
(from his Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision series)

Together, the appearance stories in the gospels make explicit what is promised in Mark: “You will see him.” They underline the parabolic meaning of Mark’s story of the empty tomb: Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living. Indeed, this is one of the central affirmations of Easter: Jesus lives. He is a figure of the present, not simply the past. The presence his followers had known in Jesus before his crucifixion continued to be experienced and to operate after it.

Jesus lives. He continues to be experienced after his death, though in a radically new way. He is no longer . . . confined to time and space, but [is] a reality who can enter locked rooms, journey with followers without being recognized, be experienced in both Galilee and Jerusalem, vanish in the moment of recognition, and abide with his followers always, “to the end of the age.”

In Jesus's life, you see what it actually means not only to realize the divinity of the heart of one's humanity, but to live it out. Jesus was not content only to realize he was divine at the core of his being. Realizing it made him very conscious of how to act as a divine being in the world, which simply means to act on behalf of everyone who is brokenhearted and destroyed and at a loss and humiliated in the culture, to serve the afflicted and to serve them with tremendous courage at the core of life.

I think this is Jesus's challenge to all of us, whatever path we're on. Do we love enough? Are we prepared to have not merely spiritual experiences and mystical awakenings, but actually to take responsibility for them and to work with their insights in the real, to transform the real into a clearer and clearer image of that love and justice that we discover to be the truth of God and the truth of ourselves.

This is Jesus's call to the world. He's saying, first of all, open up to the Divine within you. Really open up. Plunge into the divine part,
into the core of your being, open up your sacred heart, see the world radiate the fire of the sacred heart, see every being as utterly and totally holy, know nature as holy, know each animal as holy.

Then he's saying you have to take that knowledge into action in the world. You can't simply revel in it and enjoy it. You are responsible for it. You have to enact it, first in your inmost life as a soul, and then in the life of the heart, then in the mind, and then in the life of action within the world, which is to be nothing less than a completely divine, completely human being, working with the Divine in the human to transfigure the human more and more into an image of the Divine.

That is the Christ challenge and the Christ path.

Andrew Harvey
Excerpted from "Resurrecting the Authentic Christ:
Jesus as Guide to Mystical Love in Action"
in Radical Passion: Sacred Love & Wisdom in Action
pp. 235-236

For The Wild Reed's 2019 Holy Week post, see:
In This In-Between Time

For The Wild Reed's 2018 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Druid author and speaker John Michael Greer's essay "The God from the House of Bread" in the 2012 anthology, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ), see:
The God from the House of Bread: A Bridge Between Christianity and Paganism (Part 1)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 2)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 3)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 4)

For The Wild Reed's 2017 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from a 1999 interview with scholar and teacher Andrew Harvey, accompanied by images that depict Jesus as the embodiment of the Cosmic Christ), see:
Jesus Our Guide to Mystical Love (Part 1)
Jesus Our Guide to Mystical Love (Part 2)
Jesus Our Guide to Mystical Love (Part 3)

For The Wild Reed's 2016 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Richard Horsley's 1993 book Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, accompanied by images of Juan Pablo Di Pace as Jesus in the 2015 NBC mini-series A.D.: The Bible Continues), see:
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 1)
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 2)
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 3)

For The Wild Reed's 2015 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cletus Wessels' book Jesus in the New Universe Story), see:
The Two Entwined Events of the Easter Experience
Resurrection in an Emerging Universe
Resurrection: A New Depth of Consciousness

For The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience), see:
"To Die and So to Grow"
The Way of the Wounded Warrior
Suffering and Redemption
A God With Whom It is Possible to Connect
A Discerning Balance Between Holiness and Wholeness: A Hallmark of the Resurrected Life

For The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of Jesus that some might call "unconventional"), see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State of Suspension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

For The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message), see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

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