Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman, known collectively as the "Interfaith Amigos," have been learning and teaching together since 2001. They blog weekly for YES! Magazine.
The popular understanding of Holy Week is that Christianity is triumphant and that to participate in such triumph, one must simply accept Jesus as Lord and savior. This appearance of Christianity is not only superficial, it supports a status quo that gives power and energy to the domination system in which it participates. What could be further from the message of Jesus?
There is a contrast between the popular understanding of Holy Week—which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Pascal Saturday and Easter—and the substance it represents. As a child, my church went straight from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) to the Resurrection (Easter Sunday). We knew that there were Christians who observed the rest of the week, but understood those events to be depressing distractions from the real triumph of Christianity.
I was in college before I experienced any of the substantive reality of Holy Week; now I would say that what we think of as the triumph of Palm Sunday is, indeed, a triumph, but a different triumph from what had traditionally been understood. The “multitudes” met Jesus with waving palm leaves in the hope that he had come to save the Jews in Palestine from the oppression of the Roman occupation and restore Judaism to a condition in keeping with the monarchies of David and Solomon.
But the real triumph of Jesus’ entry into the city was the clarity with which he announced that that was not his intention. He came in, not on a white horse, but a humble donkey. He came in to announce the substance of his ministry: that within monotheistic Judaism there are teachings that point to a salvation of wholeness and healing that are not only inconsistent with monarchy—but are far more valuable and hopeful.
Passover, as Rabbi Ted Falcon has said, reminds us of the important themes of imprisonment and liberation—as well as the reality that every promised land has the potential to become a place of imprisonment, that every place of imprisonment can be transformed to a location of liberation. How does Holy Week fit into such a picture?
The fundamental issue of imprisonment that Jesus addressed in his ministry was the forgetting of the reality of oneness by Jews, the reality, seen through eyes of faith, that we are all a part of the One. In those days, within the Jewish community, there was a considerable gap between the rich and the poor—the privileged and those without privilege. But, like the substantive understanding of Holy Week, oneness does not serve a status quo dependent upon an “us against them” way of thinking.
Jesus' message was about unconditional love, a bringing forward of the concept of the steadfast love of God from earlier times in Judaism and Hebrew religion. In teaching unconditional love in the drama of Palm Sunday, in experiencing the preciousness of community even when—maybe even especially when—betrayal (by Judas, a deeply poignant reminder of human failing) is part of it, and in experiencing torture and death and rising from the dead on Easter, Jesus establishes the substance of his message: God can always make everything new; God always forgives us; God always helps us along the way toward healing. God will never leave anyone behind.
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Being a person is by definition always being vulnerable to drifting from substance to mere appearance. All the great religious leaders have seen their purpose as a calling back to substance. Two thousand years after Jesus, Christian people are as deeply in need of being called back today as the Jews of Palestine were then.
Consider this important example. Today, in Washington State, where I live, people involved in the criminal justice system—from police officers to judges—are calling for an increase n the sales tax to provide more money to fight crime. But an increase in the sales tax—a tax that takes far more proportionally from the poor—contributes to poverty and poverty to crime. Only a state income tax could provide an effective source of money for that and other purposes and would not unfairly tax people with less money. A sales tax perpetuates crime and a status quo that convinces us that poor people are lazy, dishonest, and deserve whatever they get in life. That is an imprisonment for all of us.
Religion, empty of substance, is used all too often to support a status quo that reinforces practices and stereotypes that keep us from moving toward a more positive future. The journey through Holy Week, then, is a journey “out of Egypt,” because it frees us from our immediate imprisonments. But we are never completely free until we work together for loving community and just practices. Spirituality, the substance of religion, challenges the status quo. Only such a challenge can clear the way for building loving and just communities reflecting oneness.
How can we keep religion filled with substance? Over to you, Jamal.