by Brian Walsh
Brothers and Sisters:
On one level it is all so tragically probable. Both then and now. There is nothing improbable about a story of a revolutionary leader, perceived to be a threat to the ruling powers, ‘arrested’ at night, taken before a phony tribunal, tortured and executed within twenty-four hours. As far as I can see, there is nothing strange about this in 1st century or 21st century Palestine. This is business as usual in all imperial regimes. This is the shock and awe of empire. This is the way that empire keeps the peace.
Nothing strange about this.
And yet, Welsh singer Martyn Joseph, finds it all deeply and inexplicably strange. He sings:
Strange way to test if wood would splinter
Strange way to do performance art
Strange way to say “I’ll see you later”
Strange way to leave behind your heart
Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
to end up full of holes
It’s a strange way
You see, there is nothing strange about the last week of the life of Jesus. There is nothing improbable about this story ending up in a deathly conflict with both the Temple hierarchy and the Roman authorities. That Jesus was going to end up on a cross was something that he didn’t need supernatural powers to predict.
So what is strange about his story? What is improbable about it? Joseph perhaps is getting at something when he sings that it is “so unlike the holy/to end up full of holes.” Isn’t that fundamentally ridiculous?
But perhaps it is this ridiculousness, this ‘foolishness of the cross’, that makes this totally predictable and totally probable week into a Holy Week. This “nurse of tangled souls” finds that he can only bring the healing that these souls so long for through his own piercing.
This brings me to another singer who is making some headlines these days, Leonard Cohen. When I last heard Cohen fifteen years ago he told a story of Jesus hanging on the cross, looking out onto the sea of faces before him. Some wept, some jeered. And then a voice shouted out, “Hey Jesus! Get a life!” And Cohen commented, “At that moment Jesus knew that something fundamental had happened in the universe. He knew that there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love.” And in the song that followed, Cohen sang,
I walked into this empty church
I had no place else to go
When the sweetest voice I ever heard
Whispered to me soul,
“I don’t need to be forgiven,
for loving you so much.
It’s written in the Scriptures,
it’s written there in blood.
I even heard the angels
declare it from above,
there ain’t no cure,
there ain’t no cure,
there ain’t no cure for love.”
There ain’t no cure for love because God’s compassion goes all the way down, and it is written in blood. There ain’t no cure for love and that is why the totally probable becomes the most profoundly inexplicable and yet another week of imperial violence becomes a Holy Week.
My friends, the week that runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is what it’s all about. This week is at the heart of Christian faith because it is during this week that something fundamental happened in the universe. This is the week that God himself demonstrates that there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love. His love can find no cure. His love can go nowhere but to the cross.
And so, as a brother and as a pastor, I urge you – indeed, I am bold enough to “charge you” – to observe and keep this Holy Week. Read and meditate on the passion narratives of the four gospels daily and repeatedly. Meditate upon what Jesus did for us during this week. And join together with others in worship. Make this week a week of intentional spiritual discipline. Attend Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Great Vigil and Easter Sunday services.
My sisters and brothers, this strange week, this improbable week of salvation was not optional for Jesus. He didn’t go through with this week because he just happened to have had the time and the inclination for it all. No, this was a cup that he could not take a pass on. May it be that we also have a deep spiritual sense that observing Holy Week isn’t really optional for us who follow this Jesus either.
In the solidarity of the cross,