Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Strange Participation

My love of Christian holidays sometimes makes me think I should start attending a church that practices high liturgy. Participating in something like like Episcopal, Lutheran, or Catholic liturgy would work, but then I would run into other problems.

As Easter approaches, I find myself dwelling on the drama that led up to the cross. From the glorious entry on Palm Sunday, into the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Holy Days. The stress of Maunday Thursday in which Christ offered the last supper, was arrested and tried unjustly. The despair of Good Friday, as the one heralded as the messiah was killed by the Roman invaders, and the earth shook. The panic of Holy Saturday as Jesus' followers wondered what to do next, leaderless and abandoned. Then, the joy and confusion of Easter Sunday, when the women found the stone rolled away and Jesus returned to life.

This story should draw us in like the great drama that it is. We should, year after year, find ourselves part of the story, hoping for the impossible on Palm Sunday, being crushed on Good Friday, and being ignited anew on Easter Sunday. The story should be so close to us that we feel like we participate in it as if it was happening today. But instead the pattern in our protestant churches is that we participate in this cosmic drama as if it is ancient history and so incredibly distant from us that we struggle to find how it is relevant to our lives today.

It seems to me that Christians experience a detached sort of participation in the events surrounding Easter, or even the Lord's Supper, for that matter. In the tradition in which I was raised, the meaning of the Lord's Supper was "whatever it represent to you". Participation was some sort of personal reflection on remembering who Christ was. When you keep in mind the story that goes with Easter or the Lord's Supper, mere personal reflection is a weak participation.

The events of Easter, and the events of the Last Supper should draw us into the life of Christ. They should remind us of the love he showed, of the life he lived, of the commands he gave, and of the life we should therefore live. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we partake in his life. But this partaking is more than just eating the food - it is participating in his life (1 Cor 10:16). More than just some vague remembrance of things that happened a long time ago, Easter is about participation in the life of Christ through his body and his blood so that we take on the mantle of being good news to the world. Participation in Christ is active, remembrance is drawing the past into our way of acting and thinking today so that we can participate with God in creating the future. The beauty of it all is when we find strength to participate in Christ's work - his love, his sufferings, and his glorification - and gather together it do it, he is there, too, participating with us. To me, at least, this sort of strange participation is what the Easter season is all about.


Tracy P. said...

OK, I had a little strange participation I wanted to run by you today. The kids and I just read the Matthew account of the last supper up through Jesus's burial. It's like I never noticed the part before about the resurrected holy people. So what do the theologians say about all the awakened corpses that came walking out of their tombs??? Is there any more historical stuff about that? How many is many? Who were they? What happened then? Did they preach? Did they go back to their families? Were they recognized by others?

Oh, and for the record...for now the second year in a row, I have attended a service in a Baptist church on Maundy Thursday, and had the "mandate" thoroughly explained. Maybe there's hope!

Benjamin said...

Oh, yeah. Matthew 27, where the earth shakes, veil is torn, and the earth belches up a bunch of people. Interesting to note that only Matthew speaks of the dead being raised, while everyone (except John) talk about the veil being torn.

To my knowledge, there is currently no credible evidence (aside from the Bible) about this event. Most commentators I read treat it relatively lightly. Matthew is known for trying to point out the ways in which Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the messiah (among other things), and so commentators tend to believe that Matthew is pointing out how Jesus ushered in the last days via those Holy Men rising from the grave.

In any case, I've often wondered something similar about these living dead. In fact, I often wonder if some of the people had been dead hundreds of years, and had no family to go back to.

Something else that is interesting, though you might already know this, is that when Jesus cries out "My God, my God.." is is quoting Psalm 22. That entire Psalm is spooky, but tells me that Jesus was not mourning over a God who had turned His back on the suffering of His son, but is instead invoking the salvation only God can provide.