All I can say is, this is our story. The death and resurrection of Christ, is each and every one of our stories. And the passion story continues to change and transform us anew, each and every year we hear it. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward, in this case, God's kingdom – though, sometimes it seems like chaos is winning. And so hearing the Passion once a year, twice if you come on Good Friday, is probably not too much, especially if we decide we want to center our lives, “in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord, and with [our] lives praise him as Savior.” (Prayer of the Day) This Holy Week, then, is an opportunity for us to ask the question: How are our personal stories intertwined with, in, and around the Passion story?
What has struck me in its reading this time, something that is still working on me, is the innocence of Jesus - how many see and acknowledge it - and yet there is still this inevitability of his arrest and trial, his torture and execution, that are unstoppable. Why? Why is that?
For one, of course, we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. The Passion story was shaped by the apostles in such a way that we might see what they failed to see as they went through it. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, goes uncomplaining forth. But the question still remains: Why?
On the 10th anniversary of the declaration of war in Iraq this past week, stories of its most famous whistle-blower started popping up here and there. As with a kiss, Bradley Manning was handed over to be arrested some 3 years ago for allegedly giving classified information to WikiLeaks. He is still awaiting trial, scheduled finally for June 3rd. Private Manning was subject to torturous conditions, a clear violation of pre-trial standards, or any Constitutional standards, really, and has been held in military detention, in Iraq, Kuwait, Quantico, Virginia and Leavenworth, Kansas. Of the 22 charges he faces in military court, Manning denies that his intention was to compromise U.S. security. Instead, in a two-hour testimony, reading a 35 page statement on Feb 28, Manning “detailed charge by charge how he only wanted to tell the truth about the war crimes, not to aid the enemy,” and “to place the truth into the public record, a priority that exceeds any concern for his own personal well-being,” which indeed is now in jeopardy.
Just as it was hard for the country to see 10 years ago that going to war with Iraq was a mistake, Bradley Manning, and the shame he has revealed about war crimes, cover-ups, and the fraud and waste of millions of U.S. dollars, is practically invisible to us. The government says they will not seek the death penalty, but Manning could serve many years, if not life. The truth has come out, but the country doesn’t seem ready or equipped to deal with it, even as this sacrificial scapegoat, ironically, understands and accepts his fate – and, “goes uncomplaining forth.”
Jesus stood trial, twice in Luke’s Passion: first before Pilate, the local Roman ruler in Jerusalem, who could find no truth to the 3-fold charges that, (1) Jesus perverted the nation, (2) forbid taxes to Caesar, or (3) claimed to be a king. Pilate then sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, who is in town for the Passover from his kingdom in Galilee. King Herod is first excited to finally meet Jesus, but soon disappointed that Jesus would do no miraculous tricks for him. And when Jesus declined to comment on Herod’s question if he was a king, or Messiah, as a parting gift, “Herod put an elegant robe on Jesus,” a mockery and public bullying, before releasing him back to Pilate.
In one of the oddest, yet most telling details of the Passion story in Luke, “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that day; [though] before this they had been enemies,” it says. Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows, and they came to an understanding so that both of them could wash their hands of Jesus. In the end, however, wanting it both ways, they would not stand in the way of the crowds' insistent demand to crucify him. An innocent victim, offered up like a paschal lamb, Herod & Pilate knew, would bring peace, at least for a time, despite the utter injustice of it.
So, one possible answer to Making Sense of the Cross might be: Jesus must die to satisfy our sin. But in this particular story, this Passion story, we see our sin, wonderfully (sic), in a whole new way. Our sin is also a failure of “sacred” sacrifice to be truly effective anymore, because it is revealed so blatantly as, not right, justice that is not done, not according to the loving God we have come to know and understand in Jesus.
And so what we see is that the Passion invites us to walk into a new world, a new reality. This Passion invites us to walk into the story of counter-intelligence, where a new and deeper truth about who we are, has been leaked and revealed; or as St Paul said, a story with a stumbling block, where we are set free to see that the cross is not folly, but wisdom. And once we have walked in, once we have taken the story into our hearts by faith, we no longer see Jesus, or the Bradley Manning’s as demons, or even victims to be sacrificed, but as the truth-tellers who are our true kings and leaders, willing to sacrifice themselves, so that now, we will be able to follow them, and take up the cross of Jesus, or really, our own crosses; in order that no more innocent victims will die.
This is a counter-intelligence that is not found in the wisdom of the world, but only comes by way of the Spirit, from the “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” from “the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
In asking, how are our personal stories intertwined with, in, and around the Passion story, we find that the Passion invites us to walk into a counter-intelligence story, and experience, not only the world as we know it, but the world and realm of God’s grace that changes and transforms us, so that we “joyfully” desire to center our lives, “in the procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord, and with [our] lives praise him as Savior.”