Palm Sunday of the Passion A – April 9, 2017
Last Thursday evening some parishioners and I were in jail. We had not done anything wrong or even brave. The volunteers visit the Coxsackie Correctional Facility every Thursday to lead the prisoners in prayer and bible study. What we did that evening was timely but somewhat unusual. We performed a version of the Passion that used prison jargon or street talk. A dozen prisoners and some volunteers took part in the play. Biblical stories come alive when you see yourself in them.
At the end of the passion we asked a question.”Did you identify with any one character in the passion?” One prisoner said he felt like Judas because, as a criminal, he betrayed his wife and children. Another thought of himself as Peter because he often questioned his relationship with God. Yet another identified with Jesus because he felt he had an unfair trial.
With whom in the story did you identify? With Peter who lied? With Judas who betrayed his good friends? With Mary who just could not understand why her son had to suffer so much? Or did you align yourself with the women who remained loyal to Jesus or Simon of Cyrene who lightened his burden.
Current scholarship teaches that Jesus died not so much to save us from sin but because of the sinfulness so prevalent in the world. Jesus was executed by the Romans because he was a threat to their power. For us, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new way of relating to God and to one another.
To repair this world requires community action. Our Jewish friends, who celebrate Passover tomorrow, call it Tikkun Olam. On Good Friday, we have an opportunity here in our parish to take a turn carrying the cross through the church. We took this cross off the wall and put it in our midst so we can claim its significance for each one of us. Salvation or the repair of the world is not something delivered to us. We have to work for it together.
After that inspiring prison passion play I attended a conference in New York City on the political theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today marks the 72nd anniversary of his death. The lectures focussed on the relationship of faith and good works and how the strength of both spiritual and temporal kingdoms can help us deal with urgent issues today.
Traditionally, we learned that only God can repair our fractured world, our broken relationships with one another and God. The expression used is “justification by faith or grace.” Recent Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, however, help us realize that faith without good work is incomplete. See James 2:14-26.
The Lutheran theologian Bonhoeffer, believed that all humanity is embraced by God and that any crime against humanity must be met with resistance. Authentic witness of the church today means taking action not just to protest but to resist whatever fuels war mongering, economic inequity, white supremacy, prejudice against strangers and climate injustice.
The eradication of sinfulness becomes a reality when we take action and that can be a messy task. New Testament scholar, Brigitte Kahl noted at the conference “the grace [of God] is costly when living for the other.” Bonhoeffer called it the cost of discipleship.
The Coxsackie prisoners often say how much they appreciate the prayer and bible study sessions led by our parishioners and others. Aware of their own sinfulness, their crimes, they have hope that God does not discriminate against them and still walks with them.
The story about the passion and death of Christ does not bring to an end the prisoners stories or ours. Next weekend we turn the page to Easter and the promises of new life.
To hasten that day, Alan Boesak, anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, said it is time to turn our words into action. The time for pietistic talk, he said, is over.