The Palm Sunday liturgy took me by surprise. It included a little Passion play with assigned roles, and we in the pews would play the crowd. I read along as the band of actors at the front of the church spoke their parts , then said -- no, shouted -- my own lines. Crucify him ! Crucify him ! And I suddenly understood the absolute abyss of repentence to which Lent calls us,
repentence for the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.
Blood thirst is not new. Just listen to the prophet Amos: For the three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they carried into exile entire communities...For the three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory...For the three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals -- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way... Ethnic cleansing, atrocities of empire, economic oppression: the thirst for blood is unslakable. What slakes the counterthirst ? The cup of salvation.
As if the one deluge were not enough, there is a counterflood: tears. They answer blood in an endless call-and-response: the blood of sons and daughters, the tears of mothers and fathers, wave after wave, red then clear then red again.
And a dream of water: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.
And then there is the counter dream, the cauchemar: aqua mortua oozing down the gutters, trash-bearing, toxic efflux of our violence and wastefulness. In the midst of this, Lord, when I find someone's cross in my dirty, unwilling hands, grant me the grace to carry it, if only for a while;
teach me to recognize and honor saintliness, even as I sin;
and help me turn toward, not from, affliction,
and to find a place beside, beneath, not over, others.
There are too many words in the world, and many of them are mine. Words that justify war, torture, oppression, theft, aggression. Clever words, ironic words, piercing words. Gaseous words, even pious words, that serve only to inflate the self. Sing, then, not say:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence.
Or just watch as the soldiers strip Him and cast lots for His clothes,
and nail Him to the cross,
where He dies, forgiving them. (Forgiving them !)
Then remember the opening words of the parable He once told:
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth
Then, sit silently and wait.