Reflections on an Election Year Holy Week
"Maundy Thursday" comes from the Latin word mandatum which means "command." This refers to when Jesus said, "A new commandment I have for you, that you love one another" (John 13:34) as he washed his disciples feet.
Obviously Jesus knew he would be betrayed or deserted by all those who loved him-even Peter who said, "You are the Christ, the son of the Living God." This reference is particularly poignant for those of us who are Christian. But the experience of betrayal and abandonment are universal. Indeed, all are capable of saying "Alleluia" and "Crucify Him." We each can be Friend and Enemy. Desmond Tutu writes in God Has a Dream,
Dear Child of God, if we are truly to understand that God loves all of us, we must recognize that God loves our enemies, too. God does not share our hatred, no matter what the offense we have endured (43).
Last year during the election we saw the best and the worst we have to offer as a nation. I am a white evangelical pastor and Rev. Jeremiah Wright is my beloved father in ministry. After he left for a well deserved vacation with his family after sacrificially giving to his congregation for 36 years, the media attacked with the video they had in their possession for a full year. (I do not think the timing was accidental.)
Night after night of onslaught I wept as I had never wept, because it felt like we as a nation had collectively lost our God-given mind. The need to demonize and vilify another was never as apparent as it was during Holy Week.
Rev. Wright was not even in the country, but we who knew him gathered in Chicago ... and we prayed. As we gathered in the Upper Room of one church on the South Side of Chicago at midnight, I had a sense of what it might have felt like for the disciples. Death threats were plentiful. Misunderstanding and lies pervaded the national conversation.
Tutu, in God Has a Dream, writes:
Almost all of those who have changed the world have experienced suffering of one sort or another ... In the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus could have made the choice that said no to the Cross and could have chosen to save us in a different way: "God, for goodness' sake, don't make me walk the Via Dolorosa." But he made a deliberate choice, and in making that choice transformed suffering that could have been a numbing, meaningless thing into something liberating and meaningful. He turned death and evil into new life and a source of good.
In this Holy Week how is God calling each of us to turn something evil into something good? Where are the places of pain in your life that God has used to rebirth hope and purpose? In the wake of John Hope Franklin's death, who have we chosen to mentor and encourage?
A few weeks after Holy Week last year I was in Congressman John Lewis' office to discuss the white church's responsibility to the black church and Africa. As I looked at his precious head, knowing that it had been bashed in for what he believed, I began to weep at the mess of it all with how people had grossly misunderstood the beloved father in ministry for so many of us.
In the pain of these weeks Naomi Tutu encouraged me by reminding me of how many people disagreed with her father 20 years ago and that sometimes people will listen after they stop defending and start thinking.
A month later I returned to D.C. and was in Frederick Douglass' home with my children. I looked from his upstairs hall through the window and looked at the Capitol Building. I took off my shoes and knelt in prayer as I thought of all those with whom he met in that home-and for those like him and his comtemporaries (like Marcus Garvey and Susan B. Anthony) who labored for fruit they would not harvest-for women to vote, for African Americans to be granted real freedom, for equality that has yet to be achieved.
During this Holy Week where are the places that we who call ourselves followers of God (in whatever persuasion that is packaged in) are both Friend and Enemy? Our magnetic pull toward polarization tends to deify difference and decrease decisions that could be life-giving. Is it possible to honor the sacred gift of marriage between a man and a woman and also welcome legal unions between our homosexual sisters and brothers? It is possible to champion life and not condemn those who have made the difficult choice of abortion? Is it possible to deal with the messiness in all of our lives and be as gracious to each other and ourselves as God is toward us?
Archbishop Tutu closes his God Has a Dream with these words:
All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend His kingdom of shalom-peace and wholeness-of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God's love with our brothers and sisters, God's other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.
Such is the hope of Easter.
Rev. Ruth Hawley-Lowry is a pastor in Michigan and serves as a hospice chaplain.