Easter Weekend – escape or entrance?
In his book “How Buildings Learn”, Steward Brand remarks how human beings design buildings and then, in turn, we humans are shaped by them. We are products of our own creation. Buildings both empower and limit us. It was interesting to sit in a tent at the 9 am service on Palm Sunday and look up at the 1928 church building with its lofty architecture, crowned by a huge cross, shadowing over the city of Philadelphia. The highest point in the city proclaims a cross and we here at St. Paul’s Chestnut Hill are the stewards of that cross, pointing Philadelphia heavenward. What might that architectural feature mean for this congregation in the 21st century? How is that simple detail conceived by others a century ago, actually speaking to us and defining us? There has always been a spiritual tension between the nomadic tent people of the Jewish desert tradition, (provisional and on the move) and the royal temple tradition (fixed, imperial and cultic). Both have defined who we are as Jews and Christians. We have created and recorded these stories and they in turn shape how we see ourselves.
Back to that cross, high, and lifted up. The story that Christians retell this weekend about what happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago in the shadow of the Temple in Jerusalem, has shaped so much of our history, culture, and belief systems. Betrayal, undermining, desertion, fake news, and phony trials are all a part of the narrative. Justice denied, martyrdom, redemptive suffering, state sanctioned violence are all a far cry from the chocolate bunny-rabbit secularization of these events that seductively detract us from the easter story. We can trivialize and sanitize the story as much as we need to, but the blood and violence seeps through to real life and contemporary situations -the bloody Irish Easter Rising, a century ago as much as the murder of over 500 innocent civilians in Burma this week (as China, Russia stand back supporting the military junta doing the crucifying). There will always be soldiers at the foot of the cross and crucifixion takes on many disguises in the human quest for wholeness and salvation. I think of the families that are watching their loved ones being arrested and sent to jail this weekend in Hong Kong, or the family of George Floyd watching again and reliving yet another public execution that has shaken the world to its core. Standing by the cross, feeling powerless to help those we love is itself a form of crucifixion and all the poignant ingredients of the story resonate an inescapable truth about the human predicament. That is what the easter story is so important to us or we simply want to trivialize it or make it safely liturgical, and one step removed from real life.
Jesus remains grounded in himself throughout. He trusts that this moment is somehow grace-filled where the architects of the undermining, betrayals and desertions will come to their senses. Judas self-destructs, the women, more than the men in the story retain some integrity and loyalty. Pilate and the Roman state are forever responsible and remembered for their cruel injustice. Some sins may be forgiven but they are not forgotten by the universal church as we recite the creed each week “he was crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus refuses the medication of wine and drugs AND refuses to let hatred of his protagonists detract him from his message of love and forgiveness. His weakness and vulnerability become the source of inspiration and transformation that moves humanity one more step beyond our collective reptilian swamp.
What Jesus did (as we retell this weekend) will inspire some of the greatest human beings to make his story of victory, their story too. We all know when we are being crucified (in its sundry forms). The easter question for all of us is this: “Do we believe God will knit the broken bones and fragments of what once was…together again into some resurrected new existence?” We dabble in the shadows and valleys of death, deception and are as fickle as the crowd yelling hosanna one day and crucify the next. It takes more than most of us can muster, to remain centered, grounded and trusting in God when we find ourselves under the weight of that impossible cross we are carrying. We know how the story ends -and it is not one simple ending either where they all get along and live happily ever after. We have created this story and the sundry traditions around it -to be used for good or to be weaponized, like all that is good and wholesome. Let the story speak to you and make it your story.