Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week

It is now mid-week of Holy Week, and still the church has hosted no liturgies since Sunday. They begin tomorrow. Once begun, they continue daily until Easter Sunday, as if the three days--Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil--were not three separate services of worship, but one worship service spread out over three days.

The liturgies of Holy Week are exclusively focused on Christ's passion, so much so that it puts into practice the famous observation of Martin Kähler, that "it is clear from the internal structure of the gospels, as from their place in the context of the preaching of the primitive Church, that the gospels are indeed 'passion stories preceded by a developed introduction" (in Mysterium Paschale by von Balthasar).

It's intriguing, paying attention to what Jesus actually does while in Jerusalem after his triumphal entry. Remarkably, although he rides into the city with great acclaim, his first act is to enter the temple and turn over all the money-changers tables (Matthew 21:12). He spends his first night there not comfortably in a bed, but outside the city near Bethany, perhaps homeless for the night. When he re-enters Jerusalem the next day, he still has not eaten, is hungry, and curses a fig tree that bears no fruit (Matthew 21:19). 

Throughout these final chapters, the religious leaders are conspiring to arrest Jesus, but do not do so because they are fearful of the crowds, who consider him a prophet. Like politicians of every age, the religious leaders act not out of conviction, but out of political expediency, reading the crowds in order to act in ways that help them maintain their power.

Jesus does a few more things during these final days in Jerusalem. He teaches a number of parables. He preaches a series of woes against the scribes and Pharisees, like an inverted form of the Beatitudes (Matthew 23:16ff). 

He weeps over Jerusalem, and announces apocalyptically that the temple will be torn down. Of course, this prophetic word comes true inasmuch as Jesus himself IS the temple, and it also comes true around the time the gospels are written, when the actual temple in Jerusalem is torn down (70 AD). 

Finally, Jesus teaches that great parable of Matthew 25, indicating that whenever anyone does something "for the least of these," they do it for Christ. Christ hands himself over before his crucifixion to all the least of these, and becomes them, literally. Christ is already found, even before his death and resurrection, in all the least of the world.

But there is a hiddenness, because just as the world does not recognize Christ as Lord and so executes him, so too the world does not recognize Christ in the neighbor, and so either does or does not feed, clothe, and care for Christ, unwittingly either way.

There is this great prayer for Wednesday: 

Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.
We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war, and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

That's a good prayer. It's the image I carry of how God works through Christ. God doesn't demand we believe in Christ in order to be saved. Instead, God is a restorer who having made the world in beauty restores that beauty through the Son. God saves us by appearing in us. Recapitulation. Divinization. Theosis.

Because God is like this, God calls us to be like God. Thus, the other prayer:

Troubled God,
in every generation
you call your people to contend
against the brutality of sin and betrayal.
Keep us steadfast even in our fear and uncertainty,
that we may follow where Jesus has led the way. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing these prayers and meditations about Holy Week. Even as the liturgical calendar encourages us to ponder and pray through Lent, to pause and notice through Holy Week... even with all that, it feels like too much to grasp. "God saves us by appearing in us." As God's children, we are never enough, and yet we are always enough, and always with more potential than we can see today. Thanks be to God.