Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Week Blues (Part 1)

(This article was published in 2004)

I like writing songs more than essays. In fact, the moment I wrote the title above (a technique of using the title as the guiding summary in writing the lyric or the text), I thought this would make a very interesting song. (One of these days, I might make one.) Still, an article allows one to expose more clearly a thought than a song could, although a song can express more emotions in a word or two than an essay could in a thousand.

A word or two sung requires one to give off a part of one’s soul, if breathing were to be taken as a function of the soul more than the body, as the ancient Chinese believed. But writing, if we are to glean from some of the best writers, requires no less participation by the soul. I think the soul reacts to both impulses – a song and an essay – in much the same way, except that it receives them through different mediums. One comes through the ears while the other comes through the eyes. Our society, having been dominated by high-tech audio-visual media and no longer by the plain spoken or written word, has led many of us to forget the use of those muscles designed for the latter.

All this leads us to the irony of this week‘s significance in our individual and national life. From my own experience, Holy Week served to bring the faithful alternately from the lowest to the highest point in the annual cycle where we can all face the meaning of life and death in the glorious context of the resurrection. But the simplicity of the original story and the directness of the healing process it carries have all but disappeared from the complexities of human enterprise.

After having just read two articles reviewing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”, what else can one do but join the plaintive chorus and provide, at least, a solemn counterpoint. For in a few days (from Maundy Wednesday to Easter Sunday), we literally fall down to our knees as we recall the greatest sacrifice of all. The thoughts and emotions that arise from all Christians worldwide put together at this time of the year could not be matched by the intensity of all the feelings aroused by all the best singers or athletes inside auditoriums and arenas. The latter may surpass the former with its avidity and loudness, but will never equal it in sincerity and faithfulness. One is the triumph of human achievement, the other the triumph of divine excellence. One the life of victory, the other the victory of life.

That many spend this time also to go to the beaches or to engage in various mindless revelries may not be really ironic or appalling, for such is the variety of human experiences and perceptions. After centuries of having gone through the external requirements of this religious habit, perhaps, without having imbibed the true meaning of the original events, many have simply taken off the ceremonial clothes and have decided to bask in the sunlight of individual freedom. One person’s holy day is another person’s holiday. It is as simple as that, if you come to think of it. For Holy Week itself represents the very reversal of human fortunes in the face of adversity and despair. Rejection and vindication. Death and resurrection. Grief and joy. Mortality and immortality. Some choose to live the moment and forget the past or the future without fear of the consequences. Some choose to live the moment for all eternity in spite of circumstances. How we live is, after all, all up to us individually. Not the most stringent and cruel laws that may prohibit either license or worship will prevent anyone from doing it just the same. Rogues and martyrs prove this.

Freedom and happiness are two of the basic rights guaranteed by modern societies, in general. But this does not mean that we, as humans, have finally arrived. Far from it. That Mel Gibson’s movie should be attacked by Jews for being anti-Semitic and rejected by others for being fascistic should convince us. Why? Well, for one thing, whether the Jews actually acknowledge the historicity of the story or not, their reaction speaks of their continuing unbelief in the fact that the Messiah has indeed come . . . and gone. And so, they do not know or experience the real meaning of freedom and joy in earthly life. They criticize that which should have given them reason to be proud of and thankful for, for having been chosen as the bearers of the original good news.

And why do so many of us defer so much to the Jews when they feel offended? For fear that we offend God for taking a stand against His chosen people? Or is it because they wield so much power in global economy and fear any repercussions? Then let the Lord speak once more in His anger.

Christ cursed the Jewish leaders for their murderous attitude against prophets. (One of the reasons why they eliminated Him.) Notice this passage in Matthew 23:30-39:

"And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "

(Try reading the last paragraph not with pretended divine wrath but with tearful compassion and assured victory and you will somehow know what divine love and power are all about. It does not take an actor to be able to internalize these words. It only needs an open mind.)

“The Passion” is but half of the story. There is a reckoning as well as a reconciliation. I hope Mel Gibson will do the most natural thing in Hollywood and do a sequel (or two) by portraying the resurrection and the eventual return of Christ. (I am sure the skeptics, mockers and the atheists will give him free media exposure this time.) Then maybe, just maybe, the modern Jews will have reason to truly rejoice with the rest of the believing world. That all of them may realize that their privilege as chosen ones has never been lost but only reserved for the common glorification for all the saved.

Yes, the Jews and unbelievers, in general, act this way today only because they do not believe Christ rose from the dead. Imagine what songs they could be singing with all Christians if they did. Then, we could forget about all these Holy Week Blues and sing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" instead!

(Photo above of Jim Caviezel as Christ courtesy of Google.)

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