Browsing Tag

Holy Week


when Good Friday lasts forever

The first Holy Week I was blogging, back in 2013, I wrote a brief post for Good Friday, describing the resonance I felt with those who watched Christ suffer, bleed, and eventually die from being crucified as a rebel:

A few years ago, I stood in a dark place. The ground trembled and shook under me, and I stared up at heaven and watched my god die. Everything that I thought I had known– known with an absolute, unreachable certainty, was gone. Shattered. In a moment, in the space of a few words, it felt like everything in my universe was a lie. I had been deceived, tricked.

Horror-struck, I watched the truth pierce the side of the person I’d thought was god made flesh, and the pain was so intense I could feel a hollowness inside– an emptiness torn apart by swords and spears. Truth and reason and experience and emotion were the pallbearers that carried my faith away. And suddenly, the world was cold and dark and empty, because all the light had gone out. The veil was torn, and I couldn’t see anything worth hoping in behind the curtain. It was just a room. It was just a piece of lumber, a few pieces of iron. It was just an empty space carved into rock.

Tears washed my face in the night; my heart echoed along with the cries of “why can’t you save yourself? Why can’t you save me?” Why did I carry a back-breaking cross in your name? 

They carried him away and buried him under a mountain of shame and terror. I sealed the door shut with guilt and fear and betrayal and anger and rage.

Eventually, the sun shone, piercing clouds and making the world seem strangely normal again. I went back to work. I continued learning. I talked with friends who never knew what I had just witnessed. I hid in upper rooms I created inside of my head, places where my god had never been– and never would be. All the promises I’d ever known were broken, and the lie of them was bitter. I couldn’t speak them to another person, and every time I offered an assurance to another, it felt like feeding them false hope and platitudes. I wanted to rage inside of my own temple and hear the crash of silver on marble tile.

He was dead. The god of my childhood was nothing more than a corpse.

I wrote all of that, and then immediately wrote the post that followed it, words filled with hope and ultimately confidence. It’s been a long three years since then, though, and my faith has continued to take heavy battering. It’s shifted, struggled, grown, transformed. In many ways, the sort of Christian I was three years ago and the Christian I’m becoming bear little resemblance to each other. Back then I still thought it was important to cling to a certain set of facts to be a Christian, and now I feel that facts have very little to do with faith at all.

I’ve had my faith challenged, shaken, even broken at times. In a way, I’ve faced down the same choice Judas did: abandon Jesus because what he offers makes no earth-bound sense, or go to Good Friday with him like Mary Magdalene? Some days, like Judas, I almost feel like giving up. If I can’t know that Jesus is resurrected, if I can’t be sure that he’ll come back to break all chains and cease all oppressions, then what is the point? If Christianity doesn’t make any logical, realistic sense, then I might as well side with those who are more pragmatic– dreams and belief and pixie dust don’t do anything real.

For me, it feels like Good Friday isn’t just a day during Holy Week– it’s every day of my life.

Nearly every day I stare at a bloodied cross and a body laid to rest in a tomb, and I wonder and doubt. I wonder sometimes if I’m being completely ridiculous. If there is a god, then why does the world look like this?  Nearly every day I lay my God to rest again. I bury him. I mourn him.

But, I still have a choice in those moments. Maybe my God is dead. Maybe he’s not miraculously coming back from beyond the veil to give me the proof he gave Thomas. But does it matter? If I want to follow him, does whether or not he resurrected and ascended truly make the difference between whether or not I try to do what he said? If the resurrection never comes, if I’m never given concrete-hard proof that Christianity is the religion, what happens?

Do I stop believing that it is my responsibility to make the world a better place? Do I stop trying to bring an end to misogyny, racism, ableism, transphobia– bigotry in all its forms? Do I stop seeing every person as worthy of love, respect, kindness, equality, and justice? Do I lose hope in redemption for each of us individually and for the world?

If my life is a perpetual series of Good Fridays, do I spend all my days hiding, afraid of leaving an upper room of privilege and security? Do I spend these hours more afraid for myself then for those Jesus charged me to clothe and feed and heal? Do I huddle together with other Christians, separate and unmoving, cut off from our communities, unwilling to reach out and love the widow, the orphan, the prisoner?

We’re all moving through Good Friday, really. Maybe you have the assurance that in three day’s time Jesus will roll back the stone and walk among us in the flesh. Maybe, like most, you’re utterly convinced that the resurrection is a well-established fact, testified by multiple eye-witness accounts and all the other evidence Habermas and Strobel and Licona and Wright have spent books and books explaining.

Except, in the end, even with all of the arguments, all the proof in the world, we’re all still facing the same choice: hide in our upper room, or go out and do what Jesus showed us. We could be so afraid of the world around us with all its dangers and threats and, like Judas, turn to political powers for our protection. Or, we could leave the false security of the upper room and take up the same cross that Jesus bore.

That’s the choice of Good Friday. It’s a choice between fear and love.

Photo by Der Robert



the politics of betrayal: a feminist reading of Spy Wednesday

This is my second year of experiencing Lent and Holy Week outside of a traditional church. I didn’t grow up observing these days, but I came to value observing Lent while I was in college. Later, in graduate school, several of my friends were Catholic and shared with me the beauty and transcendence in moving through each day of Holy Week.

My experience of Holy Week this year has been subtly different than in years past. I’m in a better place spiritually, and I’ve had the opportunity to dig back into Jesus’ life with new sight. I’ve mentioned a few times that my small group is reading through Mark, and I’ve been repeatedly struck by how political Jesus’ ministry was. Nearly everyone around him saw his work and words as political, even revolutionary, activism, and he didn’t do much to discourage that.

It seems that a lot of the people who followed him– and opposed him– did so for political reasons. Under a tyrannical Roman regime, Jesus represented the hope that they could overthrow their oppressors. Many of his enemies disagreed with him on theological grounds, but the most powerful ones seemed worried about his growing revolutionary influence. One of the passages for Spy Wednesday highlights that they were worried about arresting him in public, during Passover– they were afraid it could spark riots. Since the Sanhedrin operated under the Roman government, Jesus represented a substantial risk to their political power. He could potentially undermine the scant safety and security they’d managed to bring to Israel through an eternal barrage of compromise and maneuvering.

They needed an insider– and thus we come to Judas Iscariot. Judas, the betrayer. Judas, son of devils.

Judas, the cynical political activist. Judas, the greedy and ambitious rebel.

Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, heralded by a crowd of people desperate for change. Maybe Judas had exulted right along with them, fully confident that Jesus represented hope for a better future, free from Roman oppression. But then… but then Jesus starts saying some things that concern him, and then deeply worry him. It looks like Jesus is setting himself up to be a martyr. He looks around at the other apostles and realizes that they’re not seeing it. Bunch of oblivious fools, who don’t even realize they’ve aligned themselves with a man too weak to do what needs to be done.

On Wednesday a woman enters the story. The various accounts have created so much confusion over the centuries that many people today believe that the woman known for anointing the Messiah was Mary Magdalene. This story, with all its conflicting accounts, is why Mary Magdalene has spent thousands of years being slandered as a prostitute. We don’t know for sure who she was. Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus? Another of the many women who supported Jesus, who saw in him a man like no other? Or was she a sinner– possibly a prostitute, like Luke seems to suggest?

We don’t know, may never know. But in her we’re intended to see something startling. She approaches Jesus, breaks the seal on her spikenard, and begins anointing his body. She pours the oil over his head and silently grieves. As a woman, she exists outside the political system, her fate decided by the whims and schemes of men. But this man is different. He doesn’t prioritize anger, or violence, or strength. He speaks softly, even gently. Not everything he’s said has made logical sense to her– but in her womanly heart she recognizes the truth he proclaims with his every word and deed: love changes everything. He stands up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves. He heals the sick, he feeds the hungry, he cares for the poor.

To her, Jesus seems more like a woman. And, because of that, she knows that the system is bent on breaking him, destroying him. Empire always seeks to crush those who refuse to take up its weapons. It endlessly marches forward in its headless lust for power and influence. It’s reckless. It mangles life. She knows this. She knows that Jesus is going to die for daring to confront the system, and so she grieves.

In this moment, in her acknowledgement of a coming doom, we can see what Judas instantly recognized.

He protests, using the same barrage of words the others cry out. But Jesus, what about the poor? We could have used that money! This is utterly wasteful, a crime against those we could have helped! Judas goes along with this, hoping that Jesus will say something that will comfort his fears. He didn’t join this little ragtag band to become just another martyr. No, he joined with this visionary because he wanted power. He wanted to wrest back control of his homeland. Something inside of him is vicious, and it hungers.

He watches this woman, practically a nobody. Watches Jesus defend and praise her. Finally, he has to admit the truth: this is a sinking ship he has to abandon and soon before he goes down with the rest of them. He can’t be associated with a man who won’t step up, who won’t do what’s necessary, who praises women for their silly emotional displays. He’s weak. Ineffectual. He’s just going to talk and talk and talk, gather all these people who could be an amazing tool against the Romans, but then do nothing?

When he leaves that night to find the Sanhedrin, he knows he’s doing the right thing for Israel.

And himself.


the day I saw my God rise from the dead


As a child and later as a teenager, I never knew about Holy Week. Had never heard of a “Passion play.” I had no concept of Lent, or Good Friday. I knew Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but that was merely an interesting historical fact that had little bearing in practice. I never heard a Palm Sunday message until I got to college– was, in fact, confused when the choir sang “Ride On, King Jesus!” every year on that Sunday morning and had to have its significance explained to me. Some of my friends were offended by it, scorning such a “Catholic” practice of “tradition.” The only time I ever heard about “Good Friday,” I was told that Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday and “Good Friday” was yet another Catholic adoption of pagan religious practices, to make their religion more accommodating when the Holy Roman Empire conquered another country. The leader of our church-cult even advocated that we celebrate “Resurrection Sunday” at a different time of the year, as, obviously, the Catholics had co-opted the pagan celebration of Ishtar and conflated it with Christ’s resurrection.

Easter was a holiday we refused to recognize. Resurrection Sunday fared little better. I heard sunrise services mocked and ridiculed. Every message I heard  that was intended to “celebrate” Christ’s resurrection was, in reality, only a morbid, violent obituary dedicated to his death. Nearly without exception, Easter only hammered into me that I was a worthless, wretched, miserable worm. There was no glory, no redemption, no forgiveness, no grace, no love, no compassion, no mercy. Only brutality. Only despair. Only holy, wrathful, righteous judgment.


It was in the darkness of early morning that I climbed a mountain. The drive to this place had been silent and solemn, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. A few weeks ago I had been sitting in the middle of a service, surrounded by those who bore the same soul-deep scars I did. For the first time I had heard beauty and justice and goodness proclaimed from a pulpit. He had spoken with gentleness and compassion, and he tad talked of nothing else except love. I had gone forward to take communion, and I stood in a gentle, unassuming sort of reverence as I watched him break bread. He tore off a piece and handed it to me, then spoke a blessing as I took it and remembered. I walked back to my seat half-blind with tears.

Climbing the mountain before dawn broke was a struggle. I could barely make out the thin trail, clogged as it was with moss and rocks. I slipped, I stumbled, I fell. Moments came when I wanted to give up; what I was doing felt so ridiculous and pointless. I didn’t even know what I was doing. What had pulled me out of my bed and propelled me an hour away from my house to climb a mountain in the middle of the night?

I grabbed at branches and scrabbled for handholds in places that I had to practically crawl. My bloodied knees were a niggling pain at the back of my mind, but the pain in my heart overrode nearly every other thought. The emptiness felt like knife wounds that had been carved over and over again, had barely begun to heal, and been ripped open again by someone who had ministered to me, through his words, in a way I’d never felt before.

As I climbed, something almost profound pulled me into a story. I felt like I could look ahead of me and watch three women making the same journey they made two thousand years ago. In the dewy wetness of early morning I caught the rich, deep smell of earth and wood, and it reminded me of myrrh– myrrh they had carried with them to bury their god. I could almost feel their tears of mourning on my face.

Suddenly, I crested the summit— and there, right in front of me, was a large, round stone. All around me sound was springing to life as the eastern sky turned a faint blue-gray. Even with crickets and birds and rustling squirrels, the world felt quiet and breathless. I walked up to the stone and touched it, wondering if the tomb where Joseph laid Jesus felt anything like this pocked and battered surface. I scrambled on top of it, then found a smooth spot to sit and watch dawn break.

He is gone, and I do not know where they have taken him. Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.

I could almost hear Mary Magdalene speak those words. The one woman who had witnessed his death, had helped carry his dead body to be buried, who had remained when everyone else had fled in terror. I could feel the same words on my own lips. He is gone, and I don’t know where they have taken him. Where is he? They have taken you away, and given me nothing but lies.

Where are you?

She, one of the few people who knew him best, had mistaken him for a gardener. She did not, could not, recognize him. Logic and reason defied it. What she had born witness to told her it was impossible. This could not have been the man she knew.

The sky turned the faintest pink and the light began washing the world. Grays and blues and midnight shades mixed in the forest canopy as I watched sunlight gild the clouds with the faintest brushstrokes. Inexorably, morning touched the world. I watched it happen, and felt the heaviness inside ease slightly. I closed my eyes to feel the sunlight on my face.

And . . . something moved. There are no words in my language to describe what I felt. There was someone there, and someone not there. It was like feeling wind, only nothing touched my skin. But I recognized it. I hadn’t felt it since I was a child, it had been so very long I scarcely recognized it. But like lightning, I knew that it was Him. The God who had never died. The God I knew before they had replaced him with a lie. The God I had denied thrice. Rabboni, I whispered. He offered me his hand, his side, his peace. He held me that morning as I cried. I felt so incredibly betrayed– why didn’t you stop them? Why did you not save yourself from their lies, their hatred? He took my hand and placed it in his– the hand that had healed and lifted and blessed. The hand that had sheltered children and comforted widows and raised the dead.

I opened my eyes– all of my eyes — to the splendor of full dawn.

He is Risen.

He is Risen, indeed.