Woven palm crucifixes and other objects made by indigenous people in Mexico City, Domingo de Ramos, 2015.
Palm Sunday is past; now we've begun Holy Week. I'm singing almost every day, and this responsibility, combined with the solemnity of the story that we'll hear repeated throughout the week, and its sad echoes in present-day news, have made me feel that it is not "ordinary time." Holy Week never is, but the events in Ankara, Istanbul, Brussels, and so many other places bring home the sobering fact that we humans have not learned very much in 2000 years, and are not a great deal closer to the peace and equality that was envisioned by Jesus or any of the prophets who preceded or followed him. The Powers still wield their terrible force; people who speak the truth are too often silenced by oppression, imprisonment, and death; the rich receive a different kind of justice from the poor; racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and all other types of discrimination continue to persist; and far too many people live without proper shelter, clean water, sufficient food and, more than anything, hope for their own future.
At the same time, I'm trying to think about the advances we have made, about the hard-won but tangible freedoms now enjoyed by women, gay people, people of color: things are better for many of us than they were fifty years ago, even though there's a long way to go. The world is fitfully moving toward an end to patriarchy, and people of color will one day share power in the places where white people have exclusively dominated -- which is why we see such rage in politicians like Trump and his fearful white male counterparts in the population. Equality won't happen in my lifetime, but it will eventually come.
On Sunday, our parish put on a Passion Play in the place of the Gospel reading and sermon. Jesus was played by a young woman of androgenous appearance; she's intelligent, sensitive, and a good writer who I suspect may someday become a priest. Her performance, nearly wordless, was extraordinary. And at the end, as she mimed being dead, a wooden cross behind her, a woman in a shawl came up the aisle singing a lament, just keening, without words, in a strong voice that seemed to perhaps Greek - the choreographer/ director told me she had heard her at a funeral last year and approached her to be Mary Magdalene in our play. I was moved by her voice: so unexpected, and so universal and timeless in its sorrow.
Last night, in a dark church, we sang Compline. It began with the Beatitudes, part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It's odd. I don't believe a lot of what is in the Bible, and I certainly don't take it literally. I deplore a lot of what the Church has become and what it has condoned throughout history, while recognizing its capacity to be a force for good. But the core message of Jesus' teachings, contained in the Gospels, is simple, and I've tried in my life to listen to it, and to follow it. Holy Week is a time when I come face-to-face with my own shortcomings: my own denials, my own ways of deserting the truth and running away from Loving my Neighbor, with a capital L. The blueprint is all right there in the Beatitudes: humility, compassion for those who mourn, simplicity, working for justice, showing mercy, trying to become more pure of heart, working toward peace, and having courage to do the work of seeking justice and righteousness. There is nothing here about violence as a means to an end, nothing about retribution, nothing about superiority or "winning." How totally unsatisfying! And yet, it's only by loving one another in spite of all our differences that a just and peaceful world will ever exist.
I'm glad that my life includes Lent as a time of reflection, and Holy Week as a time to really go deeply into these thoughts. It's often uncomfortable for me, but when we emerge on the other side -- hopefully into spring as a symbol of new life -- I usually feel that I've learned something. And it helps to sing my way there, too.