Saturday, March 19, 2016

Passion Voices: Mary


Who moved the stone? What's going on here?

It's not enough, I suppose, that we watched him suffer and die. It's not enough that every nail was pounded into my heart, that every lash of the whip tore my soul apart.

Now they've taken his body too!

What kind of low-life lunatic would do such a thing? We have nothing left except the comfort of giving him a proper burial. There was no time on Friday. They barely got him to the tomb before Sabbath began. 

And what a strange and silent Sabbath it was. Yesterday I could feel nothing at all. Not the warmth of the sun, not even the pain of my grief. Not the sweet Spirit of God which has sustained me since the day I met him. 

The world went on as always, as if nothing had happened. And even God was silent.

Don't you understand? He was everything to me. Everything. He's the only one who ever looked at me as if I were a real person. Not a harlot. Not an outcast. But as if I were a daughter of the Most High.

I hate the silence.  Never to hear his wonderful stories. Never to hear his prayers. Never to hear the sound of my name on his lips--the sweetest sound I ever heard. The only voice I want to hear is the one I can never hear again.

Here's the gardener. I'll ask him if he knows anything. Maybe he saw something. Maybe he knows who did this. How did they move the stone? Where is my Lord? Where is my. . .


Photo Credits:
    Entombment of Christ, by  anonymous Russian icon painter
    Easter Morning, painting by Johann Friedrick Overbeck

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Passion Voices: the Centurion

You get used to it. 

The stares. The contempt. The muttered curses. The spitting when they think we aren't looking. 

We came to bring the peace, but apparently they don't want peace. They prefer independence to the Pax Romana. 

Independence! These Jews can't even settle simple disputes about their own religion by themselves. And, of course, you can't argue with "the chosen ones." 

Or reason either.

I'm not used to arguing anyway. If I tell my men "Do this" or "Go there," they don't mouth off. They don't ask questions. They just do it. They just go where they're told.

That's what I told Jesus when I went to see him. That's why I understood that he didn't need to come to my house for my servant to be healed. I knew He could just give the command and it would be done. I do know something about authority, and I could see that this man had it.

I've tried to help these people. I gave money to help them build a synagogue.

But I don't understand this at all. Why are they crucifying this man? He has taught them, healed them, loved them. While they stand jeering and scoffing, even the sky has covered its face with a dark veil. Even the clouds are weeping. 

I've seen men die this wretched death--criminals who deserved it. Like these thieves, caught in the act! But this man has done nothing wrong. Nothing! 

Oh God, no. I think they've had their way now. He's not gasping for air anymore. He's dead.

Can't you people see it? I don't care what you say about him.

Surely this was the Son of God!

Photo Credits:
    Roman soldiers, by  Harrak.a
    Jesus healing the Centurion's servant, painting by Paolo Veronese
    Crucifixion, by Benvenuto di Giovanni
     Crucifixion, after Joseph Van Fuhrich, detail, photo by Wolfgang Sauber

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Passion Voices: Thieves


Well, Saul. Here we are. Your plan a charm.


Shut up, Josiah. Just shut up.


Don't worry. We'll both be silent soon...thanks to you and your brilliant plans.


Shut up. Can't you be quiet even now? If you hadn't confessed ... we wouldn't be dying like criminals.


We are criminals.

Just! Shut! Up!


I wish Mom were here.


Why? Our mother doesn't care....Nobody cares. Didn't I tell you?


Don't say that.


Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.


Forgive? How can anyone forgive this mob?


Show some respect!


Don't worry. This guy will save us. He's a king! [To Jesus] Hey, Big Shot! ... King of the Jews! Why don't you save yourself!


Quiet, Saul. Can't you see we're just getting what we deserve .... We're thieves. This man has done nothing wrong.


Whatever. It doesn't matter now. Nothing matters now.


It matters. [To Jesus] Lord, when you come into your kingdom ... please remember me.


Who are you talking to? He can't help you. We're all in the same boat here...and the boat is sinking.


[To Josiah] Truly, my friend. Today you will be with me in Paradise.


Thank you. Now I can die in peace.


Paradise? Have fun in Paradise, you guys.... Send me a postcard in Hell....

Photo Credits:
     Christ on the Cross between two thieves, Artist unknown

     Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves, by Peter Paul Rubenst

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Passion Voices: Pilate

Bring me a basin.


What do I do with this man? I don't see that he's broken any real laws--Roman laws I mean--and what do I care about all their religious falderal? Sabbath? Passover? Phalacteries? What is all that to me?

"Are you a king?" I asked him.

"I came to bring the truth."

Truth? What is truth? Does anyone know? Is that Jewish truth? Roman truth? Your truth? My truth?

And then my wife sends me a message, saying "Don't have anything to do with him. I had bad dreams about him." 

Bad dreams? Am I the sender of dreams? Why is all this on my head?

Then I thought I had the answer. It was brilliant, really. The mob was screaming for blood--so I would give them Barrabas. It was one of their stupid traditions, after all--to release one prisoner at Passover.

Barrabas--a piece of work if ever I saw one. A murderer caught red handed. No question about his guilt. Surely they would rather put him on a cross.

No dice! The Pharisees have got them all worked up. They've got to have Jesus-Jesus-Jesus and nobody else. I just don't like this whole business.

It's their voices screaming. It's their decision. Let it be on their heads! After all, that's what they said. "Let His blood be on us." Well then, so be it!

Where is that basin? I want to wash my hands of this mess! 

More water! Hurry!

No good! No good! Why won't my hands come clean? 

It's not my fault!

Photo Credits:
     Pilate with Jesus, by Nicholai Ge
     The Message of Pilate's Wife, by James Tissot
     Christ in front of Pilateby Jacek Malczewski  
     detail of Pilate Washing his Hands), 1533-34, fresco, 
             Church of Santa Maria della Neve, Pisogne (BG), Italy

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Passion Voices: Peter

His words surprised me.

"You will all fall away because of me this night," Jesus said last night at the Seder.

Not me, I thought. Hey, I'm the rock.

"Though everyone else may desert you, I never will." I said it and I meant it. I had to speak up. I wanted Him to know He could count on me.

He looked at me, and I will never forget those eyes of sadness and love. He said that before the rooster crows, I would deny him three times.

"No, no, never." I said. That's what we all said. But everything was happening so fast. Things were spinning out of control, and I was dizzy with fear.

He went to the Garden to pray. He took just the three of us--me and James and John. The sky was pressing down so hard, I couldn't stay awake. He woke us, but we all fell asleep again. Just when he needed us most!

Then the soldiers came with Judas to arrest Jesus. Why was Judas doing this? He was one of us. I didn't even stop to think. I grabbed my sword and cut off the ear of one of the guards. They had no right.

No right!

Again Jesus rebuked me. "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." And He bent down and picked up the severed ear and placed it back on the soldier's head.

When they took the Master away, I followed--but not too close. I didn't want to get arrested too. But what I saw was terrible. They whipped Him and drove thorns into his head. What had He done to deserve this?

Then a woman pointed at me and snarled through crooked teeth. "He's one of them. He was with Jesus." I was terrified.

"No," I said, "I don't even know him."

Another one looked at me and said, "He was with them."

"I tell you, I don't know him!" 

Later some other bystanders said that I must be a disciple too. They said my Galilean accent gave me away. I was furious. These people were trying to get me killed. I cursed and screamed, "No, I don't know this man."

Just then, the rooster crowed.

Someone said this morning that Judas hung himself last night. Why, oh why, didn't I do the same thing?

I am so ashamed.

Photo Credits:
     Peter, by Masaccio
     Detail from the Last Supper, from the Netherlands

     Agony in the Garden, by Andrea Mantegna         Jesus Arrested, by Giotto
     Peter Denies Christ, detail from a mural
     The Rooster Crows, by A. L. O. E.
     The Repentant Peter, by El Greco

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Passion Voices: Judas

I don't want it! Not any of it! I gave it back. I threw it into the temple, but it just keeps rattling and rolling and clang-clang-clanging on the tiles. Please make it stop!

A payment of thirty silver coins. But I don't want it.

I gave it back! 

Caiaphas and his cronies were only too anxious to pay me. All I had to do was to lead them to Jesus, just let them know which one he was. Easy money.

I think it started with that crazy woman. When we were eating at Simon's house, this woman comes right up to the table and puts ointment on his feet. Then she rubs it in with her hair. What a spectacle and what a waste! A year's wages. She could have fed the poor! She could have put it in our treasury, and I could have put it to some good use.

So tonight at the Seder, he gets down on his hands and knees and washes our feet. Our dirty, smelly feet! Is that any way for a king to act? He has the nerve to say that one of us will betray him. I think he's looking right at me. But when he dips the bread in the wine and hands it to me, I know what I have to do. I just suddenly know. It's like I've always known. I ran out of there in a hurry. I had to get some air.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God," he was so fond of saying. Talk, talk! "The kingdom of God is like a seed. It's like a pearl." Talk, talk, talk! "It's like a lump of yeast." Who cares about these cute little stories?

When we went marching into Jerusalem with shouts and waving palm branches, I thought this is it! This is when he's going to quit talking and start doing. I thought he would drive out the oppressors right then and there. I couldn't wait to see their fat Roman rumps running for their lives, leaving behind all their valuables. Ka-ching, ka-ching! Spoils of war.

You have to understand, I put my faith in him. I thought he came to save us. I thought he would be king. But he disappointed me. He disappointed us all. But I didn't mean for this to happen. He doesn't deserve what they're doing to him. I deserve it--all of it!

Are those bells ringing? No, it's just that sound that won't stop. Coins just rolling and clanging like metal pots over and over again. Make it stop! I just want to go back and start this day over again. I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Be quiet!

Oh, please, just make that noise stop. Make it stop!

Photo Credits:
    Denarius Serratus, by Wolfgang Meinhart
    The Kiss of Judas, anonymous painting of the 12th century
    Pottery, by Hartmann Linge
    Parable of Sower, by Sulfababy of
    African palm, by Artimari
    Christ Pantacrator, by Vmenkov
    Judas hangs himself, by Jean Fouquet

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Law and Mayberry

I grew up with The Andy Griffith Show, a 60's sitcom set in the sleepy town of Mayberry, North Carolina. We watched every Monday night on our family’s black and white tv as Andy and his son Opie walk down to the fishing hole while Earl Hagen whistles the catchy theme song. But back then, the theology of Mayberry went right over my head.

Re-watching it now, I find it to be deeply theological. It's all about law and grace.

Sheriff Taylor’s deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts)—whose catchphrase is “Nip it, nip it in the bud”--represents the letter of the law. Barney wants to play by the book and keep every jot and tittle of every nit-picky city ordinance. One day, while Andy was out of town, Barney locked up just about every citizen of Mayberry, including the Mayor and Aunt Bee.

But easy-breezy, pickin'-and-grinnin' Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) is willing to cut people some slack—good guys and bad guys alike. He represents grace and mercy.

In one episode, a state inspector is outraged to find that Andy’s jail is furnished with handmade doilies and fresh flowers and that the deputy is forbidden to keep a bullet in his gun. Why doesn't this bumpkin sheriff take the law seriously? The inspector goes ballistic when he finds out the officers are throwing a birthday party for their prisoner—Otis, the town drunk.

But when Andy’s relaxed police procedure is put to the test, he always gets his man, and the snooty-patooty nay-sayers are always put in their place.

Because in the town of Mayberry, pride goes before destruction (or at least before a good come-uppance). Conflicts are solved with forgiveness. Neighbors help each other, and Good Samaritans abound. Musicians gather on the front porch to make a joyful noise. And many times, a little child leads them. It’s all very biblical. This show hearkens back to a simpler time with timeless values.


Mayberry makes us homesick for a day when social interaction happened not with memes on screens but in living rooms and soda shops and porch swings and barber shops, on creek banks and at choir practice  and county fairs. It makes us yearn for a place where quirky characters are cherished, where freckle-faced children say "please" and "thank you," where prodigals are welcomed home, and the supper table is spread with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and hot, buttered biscuits. Pies are cooling on the window sill, and nobody ever heard of cholesterol or body mass index.

Come to think of it, the Bible does describe such a place. It's called Heaven! A place, incidentally, that we law-breakers enter only by grace.

In one of the most popular episodes, Barney arranges for a Russian-American summit meeting to take place at Andy's house. (Willing suspension of disbelief here.) The politicos are at a standstill until they all wind up in the kitchen late at night, raiding the icebox. While feasting on Aunt Bee's delicious goodies, they manage to achieve world peace--or at least share some pickles and a few laughs.

In an episode called "The Christmas Story," Andy lets all the prisoners go home for Christmas. But the curmudgeonly Ben Weaver insists that Andy arrest Sam Muggins for making moonshine. In a brilliant counter-move, Andy brings Christmas to the jailhouse. Andy arrests Sam's family and puts them in the cell with Sam. Then Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea and Ellie celebrate the holiday at the jailhouse too. Now Ben is jealous, since he obviously has no Christmas waiting at home. While Andy and Ellie sing "Away In a Manger," Ben looks through the window and sadly sings along.

Sam, Ben, and the moonshine

Ben then tries repeatedly to get arrested so that he can join the party, but his plans are continually thwarted--until Andy gets the message that Ben is lonely. Then Andy arrests Ben, allowing him to stop by his department store to pick up presents for everybody.

We the viewers start out being mad at Ben, but then we feel pity for him and are happy when his Christmas wish comes true. It reminds me of how God brings Christmas to our imprisoned souls.

And if that isn't grace, what is?