The Mythology of Holy Week for Today

Christian Rhineland mystic, Meister Eckhart, asked in a Christmas sermon, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago if I don’t give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture?” Recalling Eckhart’s words, I have wondered what it means for me to mark the events of Holy Week and Easter today, in my time and in my culture.

The stories that comprise the drama of Holy Week are familiar to Christians and to many people of other faiths. The events of the sacred story begin with Jesus riding into the ancient city of Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds waving palm branches and proclaiming him king. But a few days later, he is betrayed at a Seder meal by one of his companions, abandoned by his friends, and sentenced to death as a seditionist and executed along with common criminals. While there are centuries of theologizing built around these stories, what do they really mean for me, or for us, in our day?

A jaded side of me is tempted to buy into a theme I’ve often heard from preachers – and perhaps have used a time or two myself: that people are fundamentally fickle. It was easy to join the Palm Sunday parade but when faced with Roman power and oppression, the crowds turned and ran, leaving each person to fend for her or himself. While there is something of a survival instinct that we all have, I’m not willing to accept that people have little fortitude or commitment. Rather than being a fickle bunch, I tend to believe that most people honestly do the best they can in life when faced with changing circumstances. While we aim to do our best, we are also very limited as individuals.

Instead, at this point in my life, I hear the stories from this week called “holy” as stories about Jesus, his vision, commitment, and inner direction. The other characters in the mythology of these accounts are meant to serve a role in relation to the protagonist. (In case I offended anyone by my choice of the word “mythology,” let’s be honest: even the gospel accounts don’t agree on the facts. We don’t know the details of what happened. Instead, we’ve inherited a tradition of various stories that form a larger mythology about the final days of Jesus’ life.)

Taken together, the biblical accounts present Jesus as one who maintains an unwavering focus on moving through the good and the bad of life. He holds a clear sense of self and maintains integrity to that self-understanding. When crowds attempt to pull him off course by making him something he isn’t, when he’s faced with betrayal, when he experiences abandonment, and even when he is unjustly accused and sentenced to death, he remains true to himself and what he understood as his vocation in life.

While each of the four gospel narratives in the New Testament present different events and contexts, they each convey this central theme: that despite wild and crazy up’s and down’s, Jesus remained focused and maintained integrity till he drew his last breath.

As I look at my life and our lives together in a globalized culture where values profit, advancement, and success permeate each aspect of life, I find the sacred story of Jesus to be fundamentally counter-cultural. He refused to accept the image of success and became the leader of a revolution. He also took in stride the fact that his friends betrayed and abandoned him. In this, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther during his trial for heresy: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

In our day, and in our global culture, perhaps what we need most is this prophetic yet grounded way of life exemplified in the stories of Jesus. With great integrity and fortitude, we need to live in a way that withstands the pressures to change, to conform, and to go along with the crowds. Doing so may lead to false accusations and abandonment. Yet, ultimately, living in truth will prove to be life giving.

Of course, while the stories of Jesus clearly convey that many of his friends abandoned him, it’s important to note an often overlooked tidbit of the stories: the women in Jesus’ life found ways to support and care for him both through his death and into the experience of resurrection. The stories of the women subtly convey the consolation that even when we find ourselves most abandoned, we are not alone.

What good is this week called holy for me? It’s an important reminder of what it means to be faithful to myself and to live with integrity. Faithfulness and integrity wind their way through each of the stories associated with the events remembered this week. Perhaps that’s something from these stories that’s also good for you.

© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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One Response to The Mythology of Holy Week for Today

  1. In defense of the Jewish position on Easter: According to the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews 5:1-5:10, Christ belonged to the Order of Melchizedek and the eternal priesthood. This, of course, suggests that Melchizedek, the man who initiated Abraham as a High Priest, were both “Anointed Ones” (Greek: Christos), as were the patriarchal descendants of Abraham through Joseph. The “secret of the Word” was then lost for the next 3 generations, which explains why Moses was given the meaning and pronunciation of the Lost Word at Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, Moses further illuminated the Word by writing his 5 Books, which Jews call the Torah. He then passed it on to to his brother Aaron as key to the the eternal priesthood. With the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (ca. 586 BC), the last High Priest died protecting the transcendental meaning and “pronunciation” of the Word of God. To this Day Jews will not attempt to utter the Holy Tetragrammaton (i.e., YHVH; Yahweh; Jehovah), but say Adonoi instead (lower case and plural as in “LORD of Lords”). For Jews (which of course included Jesus) the death of the last High Priest meant the death of prophecy — unless the meaning and pronunciation of the Word was somehow recovered by Jesus, as implied by our referenced to him as Jesus the Christ. It is no wonder that the Jewish elders of Sanhedrin doubted this newcomer. But, I don’t — Happy Easter — to all my Christian brethren.

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