Holy Week and the Movement of Love and Liberation

Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, the National Council of Churches

Easter Sunday was an almost magical day when I was growing up in the American Midwest. The sights and smells and feelings evoked by that holy day still live with me. The Easter lilies, the packed church, the full choir, everyone dressed up, the stirring chords of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” my father in his white robe, all of it was exciting. I am grateful for those memories.

And, yet, even though my preacher father, who never hesitated to speak against war, racism, and poverty, occupied the pulpit, it still seemed to be a Sunday in which the horror of Christ’s execution on false charges of treason failed to sink into the congregation.

The much smaller groups that attended Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services dwelled on betrayal, abuse, and torture. The Easter Sunday service was for those who wanted to celebrate the resurrection, to attend the party, to be there for the proverbial ticker tape parade.

As I have gotten older, it’s become much more difficult for me to separate the few hours between the murder of Jesus from the discovery that his body was missing. It was a brief and terribly confusing, fearful, and exhausting period.

Christ’s followers lived under Roman military occupation. Life was hard. Spies were everywhere. Roman soldiers were garrisoned in strategic locations. A puppet king ruled the land, popular resistance was not tolerated, and people yearned for freedom.

While Jesus was not the leader of a rebellion intended to throw off the Roman yoke, he understood the political and social context in which he lived. Read Walter Wink’s Bible study of Matthew 5:38-42. You cannot help but be moved by the brilliance of Jesus’ teachings and insights.

Thus, it is simply astonishing to consider that Christ’s message of love and healing and forgiveness has been transmuted by countless people over the centuries into a weapon to be used against others.

Jesus — my Lord and Savior — was a key leader in a centuries-old movement of love and liberation. While many yearn for his return and for what they perceive will be a time of instant gratification, the truth is, the realization of what he stood for will be achieved by all of us working together to change our hearts and minds and to remove the structures of oppression, hatred, and greed we have imposed upon ourselves.

Even during the Easter services I recall in which the blood and tears surrounding the lynching of Jesus were glossed over, we caught a glimpse of God’s preferred future for us. During this Holy Week, I pray you will commit yourself to the great movement of love and liberation.

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