This Sunday’s readings move us to the second part of a “Risen Christ” experience: the part where we are asked to change.
Jesus: “Do you love me?”
Peter: “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”
IOW, “Quit hanging out in high priest’s courtyard while the other disciples are elsewhere. Quit jumping in and out of fishing boats and leaving others behind. Do things differently. Be changed. Feed my sheep.”
Very challenging. Apparently it is not enough for us to say, “Yes Lord, you know that we love you” unless we are also willing to make changes and better care for one another.
There are so many ways in which we could change.
We live in an inherently racist society that bestows unearned privilege on some and unfairly burdens others. We could change and start working to dismantle that unjust system.
We have become a society in which many cannot afford basic nutrition or health care. We could change and start building a system that meets those human needs.
We shop and dine and otherwise gather in buildings that make the disabled feel like an unwelcome nuisance. We could change and start building facilities that are fully accessible.
We pray and worship using sexist language. We could change and start re-writing our liturgical language.
We are watching anti-Semitic rhetoric turn into deadly violence. We could change and eliminate anti-Jewish hymns, prayers and bible readings (like “the conversion of Saul” – this Sunday’s first reading) from our liturgy.
Not a full list, of course. Any one of those changes would cost us time, money, attention, compassion and at least a little inconvenience.
Here’s the thing: after we have seen the Risen Christ, we are asked to change. Otherwise, we are just singing the Same Song on a Different Day.
In churches on Palm Sunday and Good Friday a “Passion Narrative” will be read or communally recited. Passion Narratives are the accounts, drawn from the gospels, of Jesus’ last days: his struggle and arrest in Gethsemane, his trial, and his death and burial. Like the gospels in which they appear, Passion Narratives were composed primarily to help early Christians remember and reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Secondarily, they were intended to exonerate the Romans for Jesus’ death by blaming “the Jews.”
We have very little historically verifiable information about Jesus. One of the few details for which we do have some reliable historical sources is that Jesus’s execution was most likely ordered by the Roman official, Pontius Pilate and carried out by Roman soldiers; not “the Jews.” It is a lie that Jesus’ fellow Jews were responsible for his death. That lie, woven into the Passion narrative, has resulted in the death of millions, even before the Holocaust of the 20th century.
“If to get a good message you need to make Judaism look bad, then you don’t have a good message.”
It is time for Christians to stop telling and re-telling the lie. Let’s skip the references to Judas. Even if he really did exist, the Holy Week story does not need a betrayer. As Jesus said himself, he lived and taught publicly. The Romans didn’t need Judas to find Jesus. Then we can leave out the references to Caiaphas, Annas, the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, the elders, the scribes and the Pharisees. Just edit them out. Their roles and their words were made up to perpetuate a terrible lie.
One of the reasons to remember the story of Jesus’ death is to reflect on how it is that good, innocent people get crushed by unfairness and injustice – not because it happened once 2000 years ago, but because it happens daily, and because we want to keep trying to change that. Let’s do our remembering and reflecting in a way that honors the Jew whose life and teachings we call good news.