Traditionally, Presbyterians minimize as pious ritual the season of Lent. Lent evolved in the 3rd century as a season to renew and unite the whole church for the purpose of upending what had become a dogmatic, order-based institution, and reclaim its call to a just and generous faith. It prepared the church to celebrate the liberation of Easter, by letting go of worldly tension and appetites, to withdraw from the world’s empire and turn to Jesus.
This past week, we watched as Jesus evoked anger when he confronted the authorities, the system of domination by those who occupied and those who collaborated with that occupation. As we walk with him, we may wonder how we too collaborate with worldly, subjugating empires, and perhaps acknowledge our own tendency to passively wait to follow Jesus only when we are assured he will reach a place of triumph and comfort.
Some of us have walked Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa, seen the massive stones upon which it is believed Jesus walked on the way to his cross. Some walk it with pious self-infliction, entering into his suffering with a moment of confession and grief. Others step into Jesus’ suffering by penetrating the suffering of others, and hear the crowd’s voices clamoring for exclusion, dogmatic order and a totalitarian spiritual dictatorship. This is a longer, more painful walk. Rifat Odeh Kassis, the co-ordinator of Kairos Palestine, in his Easter message
“Today, many Palestinians refer to our experience of living under Israeli occupation and the suffering we endure as 'walking the Via Dolorosa' or the Way of the Cross. The (70 years of) stations of suffering that are visited include: checkpoints, permits, refugee camps, blockade, home demolitions, detention without trial, and bombing. The message of Easter and the Resurrection is that those liberated by God cannot be made slaves by anyone. But this is what is exactly what is happening today in occupied Palestine. Israel is asking the Palestinian people to let their freedom die, so that the Israeli people can live.”
No longer are we to be part of a personal, naïvely uncritical, religious celebration or a mask for exploitation. We realize that God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, in non-violent, vulnerability, evokes anger and chaos, and walks on the side of the oppressed to transform this world.
Easter has no power if it does not recognise the reality of oppressive empire. The triumph of the resurrection is in its power to liberate all. We’re only free if all are free. Matthew’s gospel tells of Jesus’ final appearance with his disciples, when he says that he will walk with them, both strong and weak in faith, as they go, make disciples, teaching all to obey what he had commanded.
This “great commission” is a commission of liberation, a call to resistance, a call to live the resurrection reality, of overcoming the oppressor. So we who are liberated, work in acts of resistance to liberate others. We are not without hope, for Jesus walks with us to complete what we cannot complete, overcoming our frustrated attempts. We truly hear his call, if we are willing to be changed by what we hear.
Joy in the Easter Season!
photo: Israeli soldier on Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa
credit: Kairos Palestine Easter Alert 2019