Unless you are a church-goer, a Christian or a student of World Religions, you are probably deciding right now to skip this blog entry. A shame in my opinion (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this, even for myself) as each of us has a life to live, a way to walk that includes decisions about values we cannot compromise and still remain ourselves, conflict in which we are trapped whether we choose or no, disappointment, pain and death. Sorry if that’s a bit of a downer, but take my word and the experience of my three quarters of a century for it. You and I and the cutest, most innocent baby whose picture you just saw on a friend’s Facebook page- all will walk this lonesome valley. Each must find meaning in their life. For me, that includes belief in resurrection, whatever that means- and we don’t understand it.
The Last Week, by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, goes through the second half of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest written Gospel, which is organized day by day throughout that week. The days include all the life troubles which I mentioned as the common lot of all of us. Jesus is Everyman. Yet Jesus is more, a prophet of the Kingdom of God, who faced everything that happened with utter integrity and trust. The authors continue, in these incidents, to show that Jesus fell foul of the Roman Empire, specifically the procurator of Judea and his associated local puppet leaders, the high priest and ruling temple authorities. The death penalty, crucifixion, was that inflicted on people who were seen as a threat to Rome, those whom we would today call revolutionary, freedom fighters, – or terrorists, depending on whose side we were. So Jesus was seen as a threat to Rome. Jesus would not have been executed this way for being an itinerant preacher who taught people to be nice to each other. The authorities seemed to miss, however, the uncompromising non-violence of Jesus. and they miss the victory of the resurrection.
Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Christianity and relied something like “It would be a good idea.” Chesterton said something similar.What a different world it would be if Christians lived by the values of the Kingdom Jesus taught. There are traces in the Christian Scriptures of attempts to live as equals (men and women, slave and free) and to share food and property within the community. Christians have a long tradition of compassion and care for the ones in society who are not valued, and for speaking truth to power. The bishops of the church of England and Pope Francis are well-known current examples. Christians have a less glorious tradition of holding on to core principles when actually being in power. What does it mean for a Christian to say “Jesus is Lord?”
At our best, Borg and Crossan say, we see people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who, out of his experience of Jesus risen and present, and out of his certainty that he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land, could continue in a struggle both religious and political that led to his death.
“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far along the way; Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray. We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come treading a path through the blood of the slaughtered.*
Archbishop Desmond Tutu gained strength in a life long struggle against apartheid too, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed 70 years ago today, I think, was led by Christian ethics to the agonizing choice to take part in the plot against Hitler. It was commitment to the Way of Jesus and trust in resurrection and ultimate justice that gave them courage. “It’s Friday- but Sunday’s coming!”
Both Judaism and Christianity are religions arising in specific historical experiences, however unclear the actual historical details from the point of view of a modern western historian. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures (unlike the Qu’ran,) tell our relationship with God thorough stories, the Exodus from Egypt or the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and our communities’ responses and meditations on those. Our lives have to be lived in specific times and places, in which we have to make judgements about right and wrong.
Neither is a religion of individuals with only their interior state of soul or beliefs to concern them. This was a pious attitude that I became aware of in teaching and sharing in child care while in an old fashioned convent, when I observed children’s parents and grandparents with concerns and worries from which I was sheltered and when I could not fully relate to my field of study or my students because “the rule” and my religious life came first. (One little example.The kids -up to 15 year olds- went to bed by nine o’clock because our Compline and great Silence started then!) This was all before the great changes of Vatican II which immersed nuns in the life outside the convent much more deeply. Neither Christianity nor Judaism (nor Islam) is for a believer without a community. “No man is an island. Every one is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”
Yesterday, our littlest granddaughter was at a Passover Seder for which she was asked to bring a picture about slavery. She drew Harriet Tubman leading her three brothers on the difficult and dangerous escape to freedom. The last words of Borg and Crossan’s book are “Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?”
May your Easter be filled with the certainty that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”(from RMN on Facebook today)