“It’s a familiar script.”
The mayor of Boulder, CO, in an interview with NPR, was trying to describe the aftermath Monday’s mass murder of shoppers at a local grocery store. He sighed and said, “It’s a familiar script.” Colorado has witnessed a terrifying number of such tragedies—Columbine school children (1999), bystanders killed in a failed assassination attempt on a member of Congress (2011), Aurora theater goers (2012), Planned Parenthood clients (2015), and countless police officers and security guards who attempted to protect them. Though the excuses given for each incident differ, the pattern of the aftermath is the same. Horror followed by community solidarity followed by outrage followed by finger-pointing followed by inaction. Rinse and repeat. I lived 45 minutes from Newtown, CT in 2014 when 26 lives were taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a person armed with a military-style assault weapon. If you remember that event and the days that followed, you’ll have to acknowledge that it’s a familiar script.
Lives were taken by a human carrying a weapon whose only purpose is to take lives.
“It’s a familiar script.”
On Sunday we open the door into the holiest of weeks for us, as we gather around the story of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death for our sake. The story is so familiar, we may fail to comprehend the enormity, the brutality, the cruelty of what happened to him.
If an assault weapon is notable for its violent efficiency, the cross is notable for its vicious inefficiency. In Jesus’ day, when a person was convicted of a crime deemed worthy of capital punishment, the goal was to publicly execute them in the most humiliating, agonizing, shaming way possible. Jesus was not the only person murdered in this fashion. Though he was crucified for a sham conviction of “treason,” he hung in a long line of murderers, thieves and political enemies. “Perp walked” through the city. Stripped and beaten in public. Nailed or tied to a cross-beam. Hoisted onto a pole (who first imagined weaponizing a tree?). Left to die slowly and publicly of blood loss, asphyxiation, or the elements. In the same way crowds used to bring picnics to watch lynchings in the American south, crowds gathered at the foot of the crosses to watch “criminals” die.
It’s a familiar script: Lives were taken by humans crafting a weapon whose only purpose is to take lives.
The events of Holy Week have always raised more questions than answers for me. And each year, as we trace Jesus’ steps, as we eavesdrop on his last meal with disciples and his interrogation by both religious and political leaders, as we avert our eyes from the cruelty of his death, I am left wondering “why?”
One of the many sorrows of our pandemic-necessitated absence from one another is being denied the ability to raise our voices in song of either praise or lament. Especially in Holy Week, when the violence and cruelty of our world is mirrored by the violence and cruelty of Jesus’, we would typically come together to sit silently in wonder and to sing softly in awe. As I write you, the haunting words and melody of “Wondrous Love” (ELW 666) accompany my work:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
What wondrous love. Words of a script familiar to generations of the faithful, who grieve Jesus’ death and marvel at his death-defying resurrection “for our souls.”
Please join us for the events of Holy Week (all of them remote):
Passion Sunday, framed by virtual processions of palms and crosses
Maundy Thursday, offering absolution and holy communion,
Good Friday, inviting us to kneel at the Stations of the Cross.
After worship on Sunday, we invite you to remain on the zoom call for All Ascension Reads’ second opportunity to discuss “Dear Church,” by Pastor Lenny Duncan. How telling that as we prepare to walk the familiar but uncomfortable road to the cross, we walk the familiar but uncomfortable road of racism in our own ranks with a sibling in Christ.
I encourage you to consider a gift to our Lent Challenge with Holy Family School. Holy Family has invited us to support their initiative to become an accredited Trauma Responsive School. I was encouraged to learn that Chicago Public Schools is following Holy Family’s lead in preparing teachers and staff to deal with trauma in the lives of its students. (“After a year of pandemic losses, and civil and political unrest, CPS launches new initiative to address trauma in students,” Chicago Tribune, March 22, 2021) Trauma is not unique to victims of gun violence; it haunts us all.
On Saturday evening, our Jewish siblings light the first candles of Passover, as they remember, with sorrow, centuries of slavery in Egypt, and with gratitude, the miracle of freedom.
“It’s a familiar script.” Violence. Corruption. Trauma. Racism. Slavery.
We who follow Jesus seek to flip that script: we believe that lives are saved by One who gave his life for those who took his. And in both life and death, that familiar faith script is punctuated by praise: “What wondrous love is this?”
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post