Credit for the picture : Church of the Advent in Boston.
“His blood be on us, and on our children”
Holy Week is the week of betrayals, our betrayals of Christ and our betrayals of one another. Betrayal lies at the heart of the Christian religion. The most intense expression of our betrayals of Christ is captured in the kiss of Judas. The point of Holy Week is that we are all complicit in that kiss. We are all the betrayers of Christ in one way or another.
The mercy of Holy Week does not lie simply in the relentless and heart-rending spectacle of our betrayals, however. It lies in the mercy of Christ who overcomes the betrayals of our hearts. It is only in that mercy that we can contemplate our betrayals. The kiss of peace signals the victory of the resurrection over the kiss of Judas, the betrayers’ kiss. But how easily and how frequently do we betray even the peace of Christ.
That is why we need Holy Week. We need to face the spectacle of ourselves as the betrayers of Christ. Holy Week does not allow us to cast an accusing finger at others but rather to point the finger at ourselves. The point of Holy Week is to place us in the passion of Christ for us. We are not spectators so much as actors in the very drama of salvation itself. The liturgy is eloquent in making this point.
We have just participated together in the Passion according to St. Matthew. You and I are those who have cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord” and then, we have turned around and said repeatedly and just as insistently, “Crucify him, Crucify him”.
Such is the paradox of Palm Sunday. The King enters triumphantly into his royal city where he will be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, where he will be spitefully entreated, where he will be spitted upon, where he will be mocked, where he will be beaten, where he will be crucified, where he will die. And we are the crowd, the soldiers, the chief priests, the women, the disciples, Pilate and Caiaphas, Herod and the centurion, and so on. We are all in this story. The whole of our humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly - is on display and we are all involved and implicated in the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is our betrayal of Christ. “All we like sheep have gone astray” is the strong and unambiguous scriptural statement of the matter. Like the disciples in the Upper Room on the night in which he was betrayed, at the fellowship of the table, no less, it belongs to us to say, “Is it I, Lord, Is it I?” and to realize that yes, it is you and I who have betrayed the truth and the goodness of God; it is you and I who have betrayed one another. Sin is about our betrayal of the truth and the goodness of God without which there is no truth or goodness in us. This is part and parcel of the good news of Holy Week, the good news that is at the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
In the betrayal of Christ and in his crucifixion we are allowed to see this in ways that make it perfectly clear to us. Our betrayals are made visible to us through our participation in the Passion of Christ. But the point is to move us to penitence and to compassion, to love and to service.
Some of you may wonder, ‘how have I betrayed Christ? I have simply gone about my life trying to be good and nice. I wouldn’t have said and done what others did at the time of Christ’s crucifixion’. So some of you might think and some of you might even say.
Well, it is my duty and my conviction to say to you directly and firmly, but lovingly, ‘you are wrong’. We are all complicit in the crucifixion of Christ in “our thoughts, words and deeds” and, perhaps, most of all in our indifference to the things of God and to the sufferings of others. I am sorry but all of us have not done all that we should or could have done in our lives; all of us have thought, said and even done things which are not hid from God and which we know or should know we should not have done. There is nothing more tiresome or pathetic than Maritimers’ claims to sentimental niceness, on the one hand, and self-serving self-righteousness on the other hand.
And nowhere is the betrayal of Christ more evident among Christians than in our neglect of the worship of God. There is no excuse, I am sorry to say, though there are many explanations. I know only too well how busy people’s lives are and how complicated. Mine, too. But what is always needed is a deeper commitment and a deeper conversion of our lives to Christ in his body the Church.
I know, too, that the institutional church does not paint a very appealing picture, compelling our loyalty, our love or even our respect. Guess what? Our church is a church in betrayal of its own principles and in betrayal of its own people. But the spectacle of all our betrayals is not to make us complacent and indifferent or judgmental and accusatory of others but rather to call us to account individually and corporately.
The failure on the part of all of us, priest and people alike, is the failure of the Church to be the Church, to be the place where we confront our betrayals in the all-forgiving love of Christ crucified. Too often our own agendas get in the way of the will of God revealed in the sacrifice of Christ for us. A church which is agenda driven is a church that betrays Christ whose “kingdom is not of this world”, however much it must be made manifest through this world.
Nowhere do we see that more poignantly and more provocatively than in Holy Week when we immerse ourselves in the Passion of Christ as presented and proclaimed in all four gospels. Nowhere are we challenged more completely. And yet, once again, you will hear me say this and most of you will ignore what belongs to one of the glories of our spiritual tradition, our liturgical immersion in the Passion of Christ. And of course, more will be out at Easter than Good Friday. Such, too, is the nature of our betrayals.
Yet, once again, the Word is proclaimed and you and I are convicted, yet again, of “the blood of Christ” through our betrayals of his love. And yet again, that blood is outpoured for us to drink to our heart’s delight because of the events of this week, because of the Passion whose fruit is the Resurrection.
“His blood be on us and on our children” and so it is, but in the mercies of Christ that same condemnation which we bring upon ourselves is turned to joy, a joy tinged with the sorrows of this week, a joy sharpened with the heart-rending knowledge of our betrayals. Such is redemption. We can ignore it or we can will it by being present where it is proclaimed. That is our challenge, the challenge which in the paradox of Holy Week we bring upon ourselves.
“His blood be on us, and on our children”
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,