Posted by: Beverly Dale | March 31, 2010

Walking through the experience of Holy Week

It is so easy for the post-Easter church to want to hurry towards Easter, that great happy ending to a horribly tragic story. And, I confess, I am certainly am one of those folks. In fact, there is a painting by Georgia O’Keefe hanging in Chicago’s Art Institute of a beautiful sunrise on a distant horizon but which depicts a huge black cross smack dab in the middle of the painting! I have always found that painting particularly irritating. She had done such a lovely job creating the beauty, presumably of nature, with its blend of radiant colors in the background, and then had completely spoiled it by adding this huge obstruction! I want to know why in heaven’s name she painted it like that?! Of course, as I examine my response it is that I prefer beauty to, what to me is, an ugly reality. I want the sunrises and not the obstructions, the Easter Sunday and not the torturous death of Good Friday.

But this year I been slowly walking toward Jerusalem, feeling the pain, and dreading each successive step. Walking towards Jerusalem is a metaphor for the death of my dream, the demise of my idealism, and my vision for the future, and yes, the destruction, or the crucifixion, of hope. I am aware that some people try to ameliorate the pain of Holy Week by suggesting that Jesus knew and was somehow prepared for his death thanks to some prearranged rescue package he had worked out with God. I am not one of those Christians. The experience of his traumatic death is not because it was inevitable from the beginning but because when one lives as he did, choosing to confront systematic dysfunction of the status quo, names it as a distorted purpose, and, yet maintains a compassionate, non-violent position focusing on forgiveness and grace, then crucifixion is, unfortunately, too often how humanity will choose to respond. And that is where I feel I am.

However, besides Friday’s crucifixion, there is the betrayal, that is the appearance of friendship which is actually a cover for stab-in-the-back intention. The ones that we count to have our backs instead choose the easier path and then hightail it outta Dodge lest they too get tainted. It makes people uncomfortable to be challenged with truth and they respond in self-preservation without regard to the pain or without looking at the questionable morality of their actions. The ones who are supposed to remember the healing, the transformed lives, the power of the lived gospel stay focused instead in their own corner, eyes averted lest they witness what they do not wish to see, as if in not seeing they can somehow wash their hands clean.

On the anniversary date of war on Iraq and the beginning of the eighth year, I helped to plant on the college green 100 grave markers each labeled with a name, age and cause of death. It is a powerful way to remind ourselves of the incredible suffering that happens in all wars, on all sides, and in all families. Just as the Bible reminds us that “the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons” the suffering brought on by war continues throughout the generations long after the bombs have stopped falling and suicide bombers have ceased their desperate acts. However, as we were setting up this exhibit one man came by and spit on the markers. I have no idea what that symbolized for him, but I do know we have no business ever spitting on suffering, regardless of whose it is. To do so is to lose our own humanity. For suffering people have the attention of a God who will not be mocked, one who commands righteous actions and does not tolerate the hypocrisy of refusing to hear other’s pain as if one has some immunity to it.

When we encounter the Holy Week experience in our own lives, (and we will all have them if we choose to live honestly and authentically) I am learning that the suffering we endure is made sacred just by the experience of the long walk through it. My suffering that is epitomized by the symbolism of this week takes on an added depth that I could not begin to experience if I had the option to cling only to the allusion of an endless number of Easter morning sunrises.

Of course, we should not choose pain or rejoice in any suffering whether our own or others for God does not require suffering nor desire it. If so, Christianity could rightly be charged with being sadistic. In a women’s Bible study focusing on sexuality I specifically challenged the notion that pain is somehow an appropriate way to convey mutual respect or love for one another in an intimate partnership. And, as a child of parents who punished by inflicting physical pain but who contended their motivation was love, I have come to believe it to be dangerous to conflate pain and love. While we, like the Apostle Paul, might find meaning in our suffering we are never called to embrace it as a positive good. We do not need to choose or long for the Holy Week experience.

The pain is that with each step we take throughout this week, we are brought nearer to the end of our visions of what could have been. And, instead, we are stuck with what is. And it is ugly, very ugly, for right there in the middle of it all is a huge black cross of suffering. And this is the week to grapple with what that means.

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