The great drama of the passion of Jesus celebrated during the Paschal Triduum begins with a re-telling of the events according to Mark (15:1-39). Every year Christians re-enact the telling of this story as participators in the narrative or dramatically acting it out. It is always disturbing and harrowing, especially when we cry out our lines “Crucify him, crucify him!” (A good friend told me how, when in Spain during the re-enactment of the drama, her son began to sob uncontrollably, so upset over the death of Jesus).
Although Mark’s gospel is the shortest this evangelist gives careful attention to this narrative. Many characters are named: Jesus, Chief Priests, Elders Scribes, Pilate, Barabbas, Rebels, Soldiers, the passer-by Simon, passers-by, bystanders, bandits, a Centurion. Few of these come out in a good lightAlmost all are complicit in the death of Jesus or are indifferent to his suffering. It would be difficult if we had to choose a character to re-enact: Jesus – perhaps Simon. Apart from Jesus, two names still echo today. Simon, the one whose name is familiar to us from ‘the Simon Community’, and Pilate, the only one named in the Creed as causing the suffering of Jesus. I wonder how our names would be recalled by future generations. In Wicklow along by the Murrough, there is a bench dedicated to the memory of Mary Kavanagh, a local councillor, “Be the change” (Ghandi) is written after her name!
The evangelist wrote on precious papyrus folios and supposedly, each word was carefully weighted and chosen. In these verses Mark writes the word ‘crucify/ crucified’ eight times. Devised by human beings, crucifixion was a shocking means of ending another person’s life. It was a very slow and torturous death. The dead weight of the body, squeezing oxygen out of the lungs, slow asphyxiation. A shameful death reserved for slaves and enemies of the state. The cross was a sign from the Romans that theirs was an empire not to be challenged.
I am reminded of the migrant Vietnamese victims found in a lorry in Essex – thirty-nine people who paid with their lives on this perilous journey to Europe where they had hoped to start new lives in safety. I wonder how many people continue to lose their life’s breath in such conditions, or in the waters of the Mediterranean sea, whilst those who transport them line their pockets with money. Still more recently, we encountered another instance of asphyxiation in the person and dying words of George Floyd – “I can’t breathe.” His murder has galvanised a massive rise in the consciousness and conviction that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Still at football matches players ‘bend the knee’ in his memory before games while national anthems are being sung. A physical gesture of solidarity that challenges us all rise above racism and dismantle its systems and institutions.
All lives and the whole community of life matters to God. This is what Jesus, a prophetic teacher, lived and preached as the Kingdom or Reign of God. He lived in community, in solidarity with others. Jesus’ approach was characterized by right relationships, table fellowship, radical inclusivity, by justice, compassion and liberation. Some have called the Reign of God the “companionship of empowerment”.
Such subversion of the holiness system and reassertion of its true meaning – God loves all people and upholds their innate dignity, offering them a place at the table – was a challenge to empire. It provoked the imperial and religious establishments extinguishing his life’s breath. But they did not succeed in silencing his message.
Let us imagine, that by our behaviour we lift our knee from the neck of the poor, the migrant, those considered the very lowest, in order to prevent the asphyxiation or crucifixion of the community of life. We can also imagine ourselves working for resurrection – so that all lives and all life might flourish now and for future generations. The kingdom means the transformation of the world and we are called to be agents of this transformation: “Be the change.”
Judy Cannato, in her book, Quantum Grace, goes tot eh heart of the matter:
“The passion is about Jesus, to be sure, but it is about us as well. Like a parable, this narrative questions us, exposes us, then offers a glimpse of truth and the grace to embrace it. May we allow our hearts to be questioned, remaining rent during this Holy Week, so that we may be prepared for the transformative dying and rising that is to take place within us.”
The images are from a work of glass and light
The Way of the Cross, can be seen in the underground Basilica in Lourdes. They were produced in glass, with light shining from behind, by the artist Jean Crotti, style: Gemmail.
Sr. Colette Kane OP