The Semana Santa, as they call it in Spain, or Holy Week, begins for Christians all over the world soon.
You know the historic story and the familiar scenes of the trial of Jesus and his final journey to the Cross. It is an epic story, a story filled with drama and cruelty and mystery and love.
What is it really about? The classic Christian interpretation tells us we are all sinners lost without hope. We were born ruined, the children of the first parents, corrupted by their selfishness, by their ignoring God’s command to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge, and supposedly by their wanting to be like God. As the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve whose sin we inherited and are sure to repeat, according to classic Christian theology, we are all to be punished and sent to hell. So Jesus came to die for our ruined souls. He died in our place so God would not send us to hell. He paid the ransom for us, we are told. His physical death took care of our spiritual debt. He then rose from the dead in power over sin and hell. All we have to do is believe in this and be saved and we are redeemed from the curse of ourselves.
That’s the classic, the traditional Christian meaning of Holy Week. Simple enough, right? Not quite.
We are not born into sin. Our souls are not ruined at birth. The story of the Garden scene with Adam and Eve and the Tree and the snake and the fig leaves—just a story. It’s an inadequate attempt of some long ago writer to explain evil in the world.
How might human history be different if the Bible told us we were all born into love?
For me, Holy Week is actually about that. It’s about love. The very human Jesus, through his life and ministry, his teachings and wisdom, and in his death, was trying to show us what human love is all about; not what awful doomed sinners we are.
Rolling about in the muck is no way to get clean. To be consumed with our badness, our evil, our sins, and to believe that we are damaged souls who are incapable of being responsible for our own lives, for our own behavior, that we have to be rescued by a Christ figure in order to be good and do good, is, as far as I’m concerned, a terrible misunderstanding of life and a very strange way to think of ourselves as human beings.
I don’t think the Jesus of history ever thought of us in that way.
To believe that Jesus was sent to earth by God to be beaten and mocked and crucified so I can go to heaven, so I can be redeemed from the original sin of wanting to know things, is not a truth I can accept. It has never made any sense to me and I totally reject it now and have for years.
Jesus died on a cross because he was a threat to the Roman Empire. He was executed because he had a growing following of people who liked what he said and did, which gave him influence the real power brokers wanted. As a result he was killed as a trouble maker and a teacher who rebelled against Roman authority and strict Jewish laws. But he didn’t die in hate, or bitterness, or raging anger. He died in love. He died saying; even if you kill me I will still love you. He died taking it all in. He died with courage.
The twelve disciples, the New Testament writers, and later the early church fathers could not handle the death of Jesus. It seemed like such a defeat. For them, Jesus simply could not stay dead. So they invented the resurrection. As New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd once wrote, “The early church thought of the Cross only as a disaster retrieved by the resurrection.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. The real glory of Holy Week is not Jesus coming back to life, but his showing how far love will go; his taking full responsibility for his life, his teachings, his actions, and his death. That is what he is showing us. It is a model for our own human journey.
Psychiatrist James Hollis has said the capacity to grow emotionally “depends on the ability to internalize and take responsibility for” our own depths. There is your Holy Week truth.
I want to die on my own messy cross. And hopefully do it loving, down to the very end, just as Jesus showed us.
© 2014 Timothy Moody