“What calls itself Christian politics today shows no sign of being disturbed by the cross.”
–James K. A. Smith, Calvin College
Happy Holy Days in the City
It is Easter time once more. In the city, we are anxiously checking our weather forecasts to see if we have reached the end of the “wintry mix.” My predominantly Catholic neighborhood’s bodegas are selling palm leaf crucifixes for 99 cents on the sidewalks. The corner supermarket, which I can see from my second floor windowsill, flashes “Happy Holy Days” above the entrance.
We have just observed Palm Sunday, where the masses shout, “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest,” to the lowly savior, foretold in the prophecies, riding on a donkey. It is worshipful; they’ve put their hope in him; they fall to their knees before him; it is short-lived. In five days, the same crowds will shout with the same conviction, “Crucify him, Crucify him!”
I love liturgical seasons. I try to enter this story as fully as possible, turning my box fan on in 35 degrees just to block out the noise of the city and let me imagine I am following Jesus through Galilee.
As I imagine myself on Palm Sunday, though, I’m more jarred than I am meditative.
Why the sudden turn from praise to execution?
I often imagine the people who crucified Jesus to have been antagonistic towards him from the start, but maybe that wasn’t the case. Many Jews around Jesus and his ministry believed he came in the name of God, and that he specifically came to end the Roman occupation. Those praising Jesus likely would have simultaneously blamed their political adversaries for their suffering, perhaps with a hatred resembling what we’ve seen in our past election. Palm Sunday’s praise might have been more of a loud-yet-fickle political rally than a heart-felt communal surrender.
So Jesus rides on to the temple. He clears tables. As he continues to teach that the cause of human suffering is not Rome but the evil within each heart, it’s less surprising to see the crowds turn their enthusiasm into an enthusiastic crucify him.
Reliving the story
We relive the story of Good Friday every year because we believe it is still true for us today. Even centuries after the crucifixion, which has offended people of all political views through all eras, we still find ourselves placing our hope for political change in candidates, and then demonizing their opposing candidate. We do this—I do this—with abortion. That’s why I was so convicted when I heard the quote I posted above.
In many issues including abortion, what I often call my “activism” shows little sign of being disturbed by the message of the cross, which points to me as the problem.
The chasm Jesus was born into
To borrow the language of my pastor, there is a chasm between political platforms and the political realities they address (aka: our real needs). There is a chasm between Prolife / Prochoice protesters and the women / children they want to help, because (now borrowing the language of my mom) you can’t help one while bypassing the other. This is the chasm Jesus was born into, and it’s the chasm into which he proclaimed, “the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
An unthinkable gift
At Easter we receive an unthinkable gift. Our God sacrificed himself rather than demanding sacrifices from us. Our God emptied himself of his divinity so that we could be restored to a people who carry his divine image.
In the same breath that Jesus calls out our collective fault and says, “they know not what they do,” he says, “forgive them, Father.” And he dies so that the Father may reply, “forgiven.”
To me, this has just as much to do with grandiose political issues as it does with the details of my own life and salvation. Now, already forgiven, we are free to take all of our political fervor, our desire for the kingdom of heaven, and realize it begins in our own hearts. Now, when we look in our hearts, we can say in loving response to our savior, “I am so sorry for my ways.”
Dwelling on forgiveness
I want to dwell there, on that forgiveness, because I think it’s a special place to dwell. But I do believe it leads to something, to something bright and exciting like all of the neon candy we will eat. To a society we will help restore, where amongst many other joys, we no longer have to choose between the good of women and children.
Watch The Chasm Sermon | March 25, 2018 at Trinity Heights Church, NYC: https://www.trinityheightschurch.com/sermon/the-chasm/
Sarabeth Weszely is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter based out of New York City. She studied English and Social Innovation at the University of Iowa and most enjoys writing alongside inspiring nonprofits. Her work explores questions of faith, beauty, and political identities.