Words

crowd waving
They are probably the most chilling words in all of scripture.
Maybe among the most unsettling, frightening words in all of history.

They are repeated, twice, every year in these days we set aside as holy, even though they are grossly unholy. The words occur within a narrative that is so familiar — we’ve heard them uttered so many times.

In some communities the Passion is proclaimed in such a way that the assembly gives voice to these dreadful words. But in my experience, at least, this effort comes across as lifeless, void of the horrible emotion of those who first spoke them. They cannot be mere words in a script.

Movie producers have tried again and again to capture the chaos, the energy, the raw emotion of this story – even of the people shouting these words, but I can’t begin to imagein, much less depict, the blood-curdling outrage, the revilement of that crowd.

We associate them with a particular tradition of belief or ethnicity, of nationality, but the vast array of people gathered that day in the spring heat of ancient Palestine are not so easily defined or categorized. Maybe by isolating the composition of the crowd we are attempting to box-in the fear, the anger, the hate, but we might be disappointed, maybe devastated, to see some of the people caught up among the rabble, shouting those words, demanding death. I’ve always suspected that some of the people Jesus loved most, or at least some of those who’d taken more than a passing interest in his ministry, in him, might have been sucked up in the frenzy, might have given in to the slightest moment of doubt, might have even screamed those words.

After one disciple negotiated a deal on the side to trade money for his life, and one of his friends – the one closest to him in his ministry – denied the possibility that he even knew the man, it’s not hard to suspect a few other less-than-courageous followers cutting their losses and joining the mob. Shouting those words.

It would be nice to think that they are words in a story, words of a bygone era, of a people much more simple-minded, weak-willed than ourselves. That would be nice to think. And true, we probably don’t say those words, we don’t join an angry mob, we may not so easily be stirred into a frenzy by manipulative political leaders, but in our day there are people who say such things, sometimes things just as chilling, just as horrific, and maybe in some way we say such words too.

Of course there are hooded terrorists waving black flags who say and do things beyond human understanding and language.  There are growing trends of hateful words and actions directed against people because of what they believe or where they are from.
Members of a college fraternity in a gleeful chant said pretty much what the crowd in Jerusalem chanted, using words that are among the most hateful in our national vocabulary; suggesting in their apology that they didn’t know how vile, how hateful and hurtful the words were.

And what about the things we say that may not seem so incendiary, but might still cut to the heart of the one hung on the cross, the one who said whatever you say or do for the least of them, you say or do to me. Are we taking a cue from that crowd when we suggest in someway that someone isn’t good enough, that it’s not my problem, he’s not worth it, she’s not one of us, they don’t belong here, that her life has no value, that his life has no value, that their life doesn’t count.

Those words, our words, might be among the things we consider in the week ahead. The words we say, the attitudes we foster that might be as demeaning and destructive as the words of that crowd. The liturgies of Triduum give us a wonderful opportunity to ponder such things, because so much of the power of those three days comes not in the words, but in the silence, in the ritual we witness.

We might consider our words as we watch people ritualizing the words of Jesus, doing what he did – washing the feet of strangers and family and friends – seeking the grace, the hope, the courage to show such love and care to strangers and family and friends in the ritual of life.

We might consider our words, our harsh tone, our caustic nature that we need to leave at the cross as we re-create some of the chaos of that day in Jerusalem, coming to the cross as a sign, not of violence but of victory.

Gathered around a fire on a cool spring night, we might realize the warmth of God’s word pushing aside our own; we will see the potential of a fragile spark of light to squelch at least some of the darkness and despair; and we’ll rejoice that there are new people who are inspired by the word and witness of Jesus and maybe of us, who will be washed into new life. We will recognize again that something extraordinary has happened to the one to whom those horrible chants were directed, that something extraordinary happens — could happen, must happen – to us: As a result of, not so much what we’ll say, but what we’ll hear, what we’ll see, what we’ll do as we gather to celebrate the great three days of our faith — Holy Thursday night, Good Friday afternoon and the Great Vigil on Saturday in the holy night of Easter.

Realizing the wondrously mysterious path from Crucify Him to Alleluia.  TL

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