Friday, April 6, 2012
Hmmm.... something to think about...
It is always a difficult decision on how to read the Passion (either on Palm Sunday or Good Friday - or even in the snippets during the daily lectionary of Holy Week). Do we speak without much inflection or emotion or do we animate the words with feeling appropriate to the text?
It appears to me that some are guilty of over dramatization. They read the Passion (indeed, all the lessons) as if they were doing a dramatic reading, as something staged in which they as readers become actors and therefore in the spotlight, so to speak. This is nearly universally condemned in Seminary and in every liturgical textbook I am familiar with. We are not actors who read for effect but allowing the Lord to borrow our voices that His Word may be heard by the ears of the people assembled at His bidding to receive the gifts He has promised.
On the other hand, there are those who read the Passion (again, or all Scripture readings) with less emotion than they visit upon the grocery list or the to do list on the desk or fridge at home. This has the unpleasant side effect of doing the very same thing as the over dramatization of the texts. It draws undo attention to the reader and distracts from the reading of the Word of the Lord. The text remains the text but the key here is to keep yourself from getting in the way of it -- either by unduly dramatic reading or by wooden, stilted, boring reading of the words that we insist are the Word of the Lord.
When you get to the responses of Peter in his denial or the voices of the crowd, the greater temptation is to speak the words as if you were Peter at that moment or the crowd. Indeed, I have sat through passion readings during Holy Week in which the reader literally shouted at me, "CRUCIFY HIM!" It was an uncomfortable moment which I will not soon forget. Yet it is always uncomfortable to give voice to those words whether you shout it out like the crowd that believed it or one shuffling in his shoes about actually repeating this terrible demand.
So it was with great surprise when I heard it said, "Saying 'Crucify Him' in the Gospel reading is really bad but it is far worse when we do it by our sins..." Ahhh, that person has it exactly right... The calls to crucify that we need to be concerned about did not come from a crowd stirred up by the religious leaders of Jerusalem but by the sins of thought, word, and deed, the evil done and the good undone, that we confess week after week after week. It is this that should shock and humble us and move us always to repentance. It is this that frames the purpose of Jesus' incarnation, Jesus obedient life, Jesus suffering, Jesus crucifixion, and Jesus death.
Giving voice to the crowd is an awkward thing for the reader of the Passion. But we give voice to the cry to crucify Him by our sins and for this we have become far too comfortable. If Jesus were an unwilling victim, then blame would be more important. Because Jesus is, indeed, the willing victim, the priest and the offering, we focus on our sins not as blame for the death but to frame the love this death exposes. Here Jesus comes as the perfect human for an imperfect humanity, as the holy Son of God whose blood effects not for one but for all sinners, the blessed gift of redemption.
What is hardest about saying "crucify Him" is not getting the emotion of the crowd right, but the attitude of the heart right. When we hear those words, we acknowledge that they are our words, vocalized by our sins, and that this confession moves us into the very arms of the suffering Savior where His death give us life, where His offering pays fully our debt, and where His sacrifice accomplishes what none of us could do: to offer His life for the sake of the world.