A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:
“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”
I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.
His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.
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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”
I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).
Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.
Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.
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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).
Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”
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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.
I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.
May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).