Palm Sunday & Good Friday – Restoring paradise

The Transfiguration, Sixth century apse mosaic of St. Apollinaire in Classe, Ravenna, Italy. From illustrations in Saving Paradise, upon which this post is based.

Passion Narratives: Palm Sunday B – Mark 15:1-47, Good Friday – John 18:1 – 19:42

Early Christianity was not about personal salvation or the promise of life after death.  It was about the struggle to restore paradise in this world – a more complex place than Genesis’ two-personed garden with animals —  by living justly, ethically, generously and joyously.

It was the call of the prophets to restore paradise by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  It was Jesus’ mission to restore paradise. It was paradise he referred to when he spoke of “the realm of God” and “the realm of heaven.”  His miracles, healings and teachings are all about restoring paradise by resisting the injustice and abusive power of his age – the Roman Empire. 

Even the Passion narratives are about restoring paradise.  They are read twice during Holy Week. Contemporary Christianity speaks so much about Jesus’ death that we might assume that the Passion narratives are about that too – his death. But they are not.

The Passion narratives are about Jesus’ life and the choices he made when he was personally threatened by the power of Rome.  As Rome did its best to terrorize him into silence and betrayal, Jesus chose to speak truthfully and courageously.  The Passion narratives are about how Jesus lived until he died.

The gospels do not gruesomely dwell on his death.  In fact, according to the gospels, Jesus had no broken bones. His body was removed from the cross intact, soon after his death, and he was given a proper religious burial. None of that was typically done for what was left of the bodies of crucified persons.

The purpose of the Passion narratives was not to celebrate Jesus’ death or valorize his suffering. It was to remind the early Christians listening to the narratives that Pilate would not have the last word. That soon there would be a great sign of paradise restored. And that in the meantime, they needed to get on with Jesus’ mission by healing the sick, loving neighbors, liberating captives, resisting evil, practicing nonviolence, blessing enemies and giving thanks for all that is good.

NB: If you are looking for Easter season reading, consider Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.